Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves

By Lesley Goldberg

Originally published on Advocate.com May 03 2010 2:10 PM ET

Performances by Heart, Linda Perry, and Sarah Silverman and a guest appearance by Pink marked the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center’s annual Evening With Women on Saturday night at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills.

Hosted by Gina Gershon (Bound, Showgirls) and organized by Perry and Brent Bolthouse, the annual gala helped raise more than $370,000 for the center’s programs via silent and live auctions, which featured such fare as a Vespa and diner for six.

In her opening remarks, center CEO Lorri L. Jean stressed the organization’s importance when it comes to issues like equal Social Security benefits for same-sex couples. Jean called senior citizen Alice Herman her new “shero,” adding that people like Alice and scorned Mississippi teen Constance McMillen are “what the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center is here for.”

“We will be there for Alice, we will be there for Constance, and we will be there for you,” Jean said.

The center, which assists more than 220,000 clients a year, presented its Board of Directors Award to Jewel Thais-Williams, the 71-year-old owner-operator of Catch One, the first black gay and lesbian disco in the country, which later became a primary meeting and political center for LGBT African-Americans.

Jean presented Thais-Williams with the award and praised the businesswoman-activist’s commitment to fighting AIDS and substance abuse.

In accepting the award, Thais-Williams noted that she often feels selfish for doing things for others. “I’m the one who feels good as a result,” she said. “And I like feeling good.”

Sprinkled throughout the evening’s pleas for funds to support the center, Gershon showcased her singing — and stand-up comedy — as she performed a pair of songs: “What’s New Pussycat” to start the evening and “Is That All There Is?” during which she joked about dating women, going to West Hollywood hot spots the Abbey and Girl Bar before being dumped, at which point she asked Perry if that really was “all there is to being a lesbian.”

Gershon then segued into introducing Silverman, joking that the comic’s “I’m Fucking Matt Damon” viral hit was really about her.

“We were young and we were scared, but with the center’s help, we decided to come out,” she joked.

Silverman then had the generous crowd roaring as she took shots at everything, including Gershon — “Thanks, Gina, or I can call you by your full name, Va-gina”— sharing the shower with her mother’s “70-year-old Jewish bush,” religion—“it’s a way people cope with what they don’t understand”—and more.One of the evening’s more poignant moments came when Perry’s assistant and fellow cochair Shannon Del shared her firsthand experience of how the center’s low-cost therapy assistance programs helped pull her through a dark period in her life after her family disowned her when she came out.

“It was there, in that room, that I started to take control of my life,” Del said. “There are so few places like this is the world. This is our chance to give back.”

Other highlights included Oscar winner Renée Zellweger speaking out for LGBT people and noting that “charity begins at home” and that the center helps thousands of homeless youths under the age of 25.

“We don’t have the ability to change laws, but we do have the ability to change lives,” she said, alluding to the evening’s fund-raising opportunities.

Saturday’s live auction alone raised $61,000, including $5,000 for a private in-home diner for six from chef Jamie Lauren (Top Chef), three daylong studio recording sessions with Perry ($15,000, and two at $12,000), a tattoo from L.A. Ink’s Kat Von D ($5,000), and a Vespa signed by Pink, which fetched $12,000.

Perry, who last year began taking tighter control of the event, continued to inject her signature style and sensibilities into the evening when she performed a stripped-down, acoustic interpretation of her 1990s hit “What’s Up.” She later coaxed Pink to join her on the stage for a special duet of the same song, which brought everyone in the room to their feet.

An Evening With Women headliners Heart closed out the night with a four-song set that included “Barracuda” and “Crazy on You” as well as material from their upcoming summer release, Red Velvet Car.

All told, the evening raised more than $370,000 for the center, which Gershon noted continues to be one of the nonprofits with the lowest overhead, as only 12 cents from every dollar raised goes toward administration.