September 18, 2019 at 9:01 am PDT | by Scott Stiffler
LA LGBT Center celebrates 50 years with star-packed concert

The Center participates in one of the earliest marches of LA Pride, also known as Christopher Street West. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles LGBT Center)

Even by the exacting standards of celebrity-strewn LA, Sept. 21 is going to be a starry, starry night at the Greek Theatre, as the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Gold Anniversary Vanguard Celebration brings an entertainment-packed crescendo to their half-century mark, in the form of its “Hearts of Gold” concert.

Well, 50 years, give or take.

“We don’t know the actual date,” says Lorri L. Jean, the Center’s CEO. “It’s amazing how much of our history gets lost.”

Until recently, the Center celebrated its anniversary from 1971, the point at which it filed formal papers for incorporation as a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization. Then, in 2011, recalls Jean, “We received a box from the estate of one of our founding board members, who had been lost to our history.”

Among the contents was a Feb. 1972 article from the newspaper Gay Sunshine, in which five of the Center’s seven co-founders were interviewed.

“They were asked about the genesis of the Center,” says Jean, “and it turns out we were already providing services in 1969. They were doing it as volunteers, on a catch-as-catch-can basis, leasing buildings in their own names.”

At that point, the Board of Directors elected “that this history was too important, and we changed when we celebrate. We feel incredibly proud that our anniversary is happening in the same year as Stonewall 50,” says Jean. “So we celebrate not only our own history, but also the history of LA, which has often not gotten its due. The very first riot against police harassment of LGBT people was Cooper Do-nuts, in downtown LA, in 1959. Most LGBT people in LA don’t even know that. So this year, we’re celebrating all kinds of wonderful things.”

Its own 50th anniversary notwithstanding, 2019 is still a milestone year for the Center—which, in April, opened the Anita May Rosenstein Campus. The intergenerational facility for youth and seniors features 100 beds for homeless youth, a new Senior Community Center, a Youth Drop-In Center, and The Ariadne Getty Foundation Youth Academy. Now serving as its flagship facility, the Center’s four-story McDonald/Wright Building will be transformed into a health center. By the middle of next year, Phase II of the Campus is scheduled to open, offering 99 units of affordable housing for seniors, and 25 supportive housing apartments for youth.

In an April 7 press release, the day of its grand opening, Jean described the Campus as “proof that a committed group of people who have the audacity to dream big and work hard are capable of creating something the world has never seen, something that now stands as a testament to the fact that we will not turn back in our march toward full equality and humanity.”

The struggles and triumphs of that march, notes Jean, will be front and center when guests enter the Greek Theatre for the Center’s “Hearts of Gold” event, which she describes as “an immersive experience that begins from the moment people arrive. They will learn about our history, and our movement’s history. There will be all kinds of interesting things to look at and read. Then, we have a five-act show that is going to go by the decades. It’s going to kick off with the fabulous Sia, and she’s going to knock it out of the park.”

Making their own bids for home runs will be an A-list roster of storytellers, musicians, and entertainers—including singer-songwriter and composer Rufus Wainwright, two-time Emmy and Grammy-winning comedian and activist Kathy Griffin, actor and comedian Nico Santos, comedian Tig Notaro, Grammy-nominated and Dove Award-winning country artist Ty Herndon, and comedian/writer Bruce Vilanch—among, as they say, many, many others.

Fans of the Netflix show “Grace and Frankie” will get a two-for-one: Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor and activist Lily Tomlin and two-time Academy Award-winning actor and activist Jane Fonda are also slated to appear. Like many others on the bill, Tomlin is a longtime supporter.

“Lily’s relationship with us began in the 1980s,” recalls Jean, “when she got a call form one of the women at our Center, telling her the roof was leaking. And she and Jane [Wagner, Tomlin’s wife] gave money to fix it. Lily’s been doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work, in helping get people [“Hearts of Gold” performers] to come. It’s not easy. People have [other prior] commitments. But Lily has been there for us every time we have asked. In fact, she’s just gotten us tickets to a Cher concert, with a meet-and-greet, to auction off [at the pre-concert Gold Anniversary Vanguard Celebration sit-down dinner].”

The “Hearts of Gold “ lineup, assures Jean, “will reflect the phenomenal diversity of our community, and will have people leaving not only incredibly entertained, but feeling hopeful for the future. And I feel our community can really use that hope, given the attacks we’re getting from the Trump administration. We have come through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and we have always prevailed. We’ve made progress that would have been unimaginable 50 years ago. And we shall also prevail over these current difficult times we’re facing.”

Over 50 of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles along with Vox Femina and Trans Chorus of Los Angeles will accompany the great Broadway diva and TV star Jennifer Lewis to close the show.

The Center’s first formal headquarters, at 1614 Wilshire Blvd. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles LGBT Center)

Gold Anniversary Vanguard Celebration tickets are available at lalgbtcenter.org/gala. Individual tickets to “Hearts of Gold” can be purchased via lalgbtcenter.org/gala.

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