The Ali Forney Center celebrated its 15th anniversary with its largest annual benefit, A Place at the Table, on Friday, Oct. 13. Hosted by Tituss Burgess at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City, the event honored Lady Gaga, her mother Cynthia Germonatta and Congresswoman Maxine Waters, among others.
The Center is the nation’s largest organization dedicated to homeless LGBTQ youth. It’s committed to providing queer young people “a safe, dignified and nurturing environment where their needs for housing and support can be met, and where they can begin to put their lives back together.”
On why they chose to honor Lady Gaga, Carl Siciliano, Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center, told us, “Lady Gaga called us a few days before Thanksgiving last year, out of the blue, and said she wanted to spend some time with our young people. And it was like the most exciting thing that ever happened in the entire history of the Ali Forney Center.”
“She spent hours with the young people,” he says. “She sang for them, she led them in a meditation session, she let each individual young person and staff person take selfies with her. She just totally gave back to our young people. And how could you not honor someone who is going to be so kind and generous to our youth?”
Lady Gaga’s mother, Cynthia Germanotta — President and Co-Founder of the Born This Way Foundation — received an honor in addition to her daughter, who was unable to attend the event. “Thank you for helping my daughter build her vision of a braver and kinder world,” she said. “No young person should ever feel unloved or feel they have no value.”
Reading a text from her daughter, she told the crowd, “I feel a passionate responsibility to provide a venue for those who feel unheard.”
Maxine Waters accepted the night’s Bea Arthur Award, saying, “With this kind of inspiration, I will go and take Trump out tonight.”
A Place at the Table is the largest benefit of the Ali Forney Center, annually raising funds for its shelter and housing program. Over the past 12 months, the Center has reported a 20% increase in the number of young people being kicked out of their homes because of homophobia, transphobia and family rejection.
“We’re definitely in a different federal climate than we use to be,” Siciliano explains to us. “One of the challenges is that more and more young people are coming to us at younger and younger ages. More of the young people are coming to us from the South. Many of them have been put thought conversion therapy and bible camps. So it’s frustrating in a sense.”
Siciliano continues, “You get this feeling that there is more and more acceptance of LGBT people in our society, but I don’t see it when it comes to the young people. I think we live in a very divided society. And if you are in an environment where people are accepting, it’s great.”
“I think that if you’re a trans kid or a gay kid in a conservative religious environment, it’s really scary,” he says. “So it’s disturbing to see that it’s not getting better.”