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Lena Waithe and Don Lemon Are Honored at the Center’s Annual Dinner

Ian Malone

Lena Waithe and Don Lemon Are Honored at the Center’s Annual Dinner

Don Lemon

Photo: BFA

Inside Cipriani Wall Street

Photo: BFA

Eric Rutherford

Photo: BFA

Lena Waithe

Photo: BFA

Lloyd Blankfein

Photo: BFA

Glennda Testone

Photo: BFA

As the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots nears and the LGBTQ fund-raising season swells, one of the highlights is undoubtedly the Center’s annual dinner. Hosted last night beneath the Corinthian columns of Cipriani Wall Street, a group of 1,000 philanthropists, activists, and artists gathered for an occasion as intimate as it was grand.

Founded in 1983 and nestled in the West Village, the Center has been a haven since its inception, providing education, resources, and community in a city ravaged by AIDS, fear, and prejudice. Today, the Center continues that mission, adjusting with the needs of the times and keeping its doors open seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Despite the pomp and glamour of the soiree—the red carpet, bounteous flowers, fine wines, flashing cameras—the focus never strayed from the young people whose identities render them vulnerable to discrimination, violence, and substance abuse.

Standing behind the podium, Don Lemon, the recipient of the Community Impact Award, looked around the room and smiled. “I usually have a teleprompter,” the anchor said without a trace of nervousness. “But tonight I wanted to speak from the heart.” And so he did.

Lemon spoke of his courageous decision to come out in a business largely dominated by Caucasian and heterosexual people. Unfortunately, his need to return to work cut short his speech. “I don’t know if you’ve heard,” Lemon joked of Robert Mueller’s report released earlier that day, “but we have some news today.”

In between speeches, the guests abandoned their short ribs and mingled and drank. Smoking jackets, candy-color suits, jeweled gowns, and bow ties brightened the lush space.

When Lloyd Blankfein took the stage, the audience stood. When the then CEO of Goldman Sachs vocally supported marriage equality in 2012, the national conversation changed. Notably, the Center attracts a more corporate crowd than many other LGBTQ charities and counts Google, Goldman Sachs, Bloomberg, McKinsey & Company, Bank of America, Citi, and BNY Mellon among their sponsors. The gratitude to Blankfein’s championship radiated throughout the room.

Other honorees included Google for its $1.5 million grant to create Stonewall Forever, which will make the early years of the movement more accessible than ever before.

The night ended on an emotional note when Lena Waithe, who received the Trailblazer Award, addressed the audience with a moving acceptance speech. "To everyone that calls the Center home,” Waithe said, “as you see me standing here before you, I see each and every one of you. I see your struggle, I see your pain, I see your trials, but I also see the light and beauty that is you.”

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