Men’s Event raises half a million for Fenway

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April 14, 2011
By Chuck Colbert/TRT Reporter

The creative black-tie gala of dinner and dancing sold out three days in advance.

By Saturday evening, April 9, more than 1,400 (mostly) gay, bisexual, and transgender men and (some) women turned out for one of Boston-based Fenway Health’s signature fundraisers, the annual Men’s Event, held this year at the Boston Marriot Copley Place.

Comedian and mistress of ceremonies, Kate Clinton, set the tone for the evening. “We love the Fenway,” she said, “because they put on a great party.”

And yet Fenway’s fun had a seriousness of purpose. Altogether, attendees raised a whopping $520,000 plus in cash, pledges, and in-kind support for the local medical center’s services and programs.

The figure takes into account the nearly $130,000 of challenge money raised for LGBT youth programming and services, including those provided through the Sidney Borum Jr. Health Center and the Peer Listening Line, a vital 24/7 hotline that is lifeline for teenagers and young adults. The listening line no longer receives state funding.

The theme of the Men’s Event focused on LGBT youth and was based in part on the “It Gets Better Project,” a collection of online videos, inspired by gay syndicated advice columnist Dan Savage. The project features celebrities and others who reassure LGBT youth their lives will improve as adults.

Even President Obama has taped a video message for gay youth, saying, “There are people out there who love you and care about you just the way you are.”?

As Ralph G. Vetters, MD, a local pediatrician, explained to Men’s Event attendees, with the Peer Listening Line, LGBT youth have  in effect an “it-gets-better lifeline” of support, not just locally but also across the nation from Maine to Idaho to California.

Savage’s project resulted from the spate of bullying and teen suicides last fall. During September and October at least a dozen teenage boys committed suicide after reportedly experiencing peer harassment for being gay or being perceived to be gay.

The death of Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University, spotlighted the nationwide problem of gay youth bullying and suicide.

Closer to home, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an eleven-year-old boy of Springfield, Massachusetts, committed suicide on April 6, 2009, by hanging himself with an electrical cord, after enduring daily taunts for being gay, despite his mother’s weekly pleas to school officials to address the bullying.

The Men’s Event focus on LGBT youth also coincided with Fenway’s recent assumption of management for the Sidney Borum Jr. Health Center, a facility that provides safe, non-judgmental medical care for youth between the ages of 12 to 29, many of whom are LGBT and do not feel comfortable in other health care settings.

Twenty-one year old Chadwynn Reid of Quincy spoke to the gathering about his experience growing up as a gay youth in a fundamentalist Christian family, coming to terms with a gay sexual orientation, at the same time coping with the fear and anxiety of coming out to family and friends.

“I am a survivor,” he said. “And without the Sidney Borum Health Center I wouldn’t be alive today.”

One of three co-chairs for the Men’s Event, Jim Liddell said, in a follow phone interview, with Sidney Borum now “a part of the Fenway family,” the focus on youth was all about “rescuing teenagers who either are not getting medical care or are doing self-destructive things like engaging in sex for money, having bad sexual experiences, and potentially exposing themselves to sexually transmitted diseases and substance abuse.”

James R. Seligman, D.M.D., and Richard Taranto also served as co-chairs.

Fenway Health also marked the occasion of the Men’s Event to honor one of its own, Kenneth H. Mayer, MD, with the Gerry E. Studds Award.

Named after the late Massachusetts congressman, the award is given each year at men’s gathering to honor individuals of “integrity and selflessness who embody the spirit of service and provide positive leadership for the LGBT community.”

For decades, Dr. Mayer, medical research director and co-chair of the Fenway Institute, and has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS care and research.

Recently, he played an instrumental role in a clinical trial that employed anti-HIV medications. Serving as a principal investigator for the trial, Dr. Mayer is also one of a number of authors on a Nov. 23 article in _The New England Journal of Medicine_, which reported that individuals at high risk for HIV infection who took a single daily tablet of the anti-HIV medication experienced significantly fewer HIV infections than those who were assigned to take a placebo pill.

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Men’s Event continued
The groundbreaking new approach to HIV prevention, known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), has the potential to lower HIV infection rates worldwide, saving millions of lives.

In accepting the award, Dr. Mayer said he was “honored and humbled” and “very much appreciate the spirit of the award,” adding, “I knew Congressman Studds for years, and he has been one of my heroes.”

In other news that evening, Sabatino “Sam” Abate died at the Men’s Event. In a statement Fenway Health said, “By all accounts, Sam was having a wonderful time,” adding, “While this does not diminish the tragedy of his passing, it does help those of us who knew him to feel better knowing that he was with people he loved.”

Abate was one of the faces for Fenway’s Ten Stories capital campaign, which helped to finance the health care facility’s new 1340 Boylston Street home. At the 2006 Men’s Event, he and shared his story of how Fenway had changed his life for the better.