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'Night Out in Collingswood' Raises Money, Awareness for LGBT Community

Held on National Coming Out Day, the event includes a rollicking evening of LGBT-themed trivia at The Pop Shop with some $3,300 in prizes to be awarded.

You’re sitting down with a coworker at a conference. The group leader asks you to try out a simple exercise with the person next to you.

Have a five-minute conversation. Try to get as much information as you can from one another without disclosing anything about one specific topic: your sexual orientation.

How much time would you take considering your pronouns? How would you refer to your family members, spouse or children? What kind of information couldn’t you share?

Imagine working in a place where you couldn’t disclose that type of information; attending a school where you weren’t allowed to talk about it. That’s what it like, says NJEA staffer Richard Wilson, 55, of Collingswood, for a lot of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) Americans every day.

“If you haven’t had to do that, you don’t always grasp the amount of emotional and intellectual energy that that takes,” Wilson said. “For kids are just finding out about their sexuality and who can’t share, there’s a lot of energy going into it that could go into learning.”

Providing support

Wilson, who relocated to Collingswood two years ago “largely because of its reputation for being gay-friendly,” said he’s used that exercise lots of times at professional development conferences. It underscores somewhat the kinds of challenges that workplaces, schools, and communities face in creating environments that are safe and welcoming.

Thursday night Wilson will hope to bring a similar message to the borough as it celebrates Night Out in Collingswood, an evening of dining and fundraising to benefit the local chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Friends & Families of Lesbians and Gays), a national organization dedicated to creating supportive social and familial environments for same-sex, bisexual, and transgendered individuals.

The event also coincides with National Coming Out Day, an unofficial holiday for LGBT people everywhere to try to eliminate those guarded five-minute conversations—and for those in their immediate social circles to help create an environment in which to do so.

“PFLAG has sort of always geared itself towards parents and helping them adjust [to the idea that their child might not be heterosexual],” Wilson said.

“[The group] provides that support to help them play catch-up to where their kids might be, or what they might have been thinking about for a while before they help them come out.”

Seeking 'the gay American Legion'

Collingswood is a remarkably comfortable and supportive environment for LGBT households, Wilson said, and in creating and fostering such a community, he doesn’t take any of that for granted. The purpose of Night Out in Collingswood isn’t to preach tolerance, he said. It’s more of a celebration of what the LGBT community brings to the town.

“I don’t think it’s something that the community owes to this group of folks,” Wilson said; “I think it’s something that gay folks need to say what can we do for the community.

“In Philadelphia, there are very defined places where you can find gay folks,” he said. “Here, the really positive thing is that gay folks are really integrated into the community—and the real challenge is that gay folks are really integrated into the community. So finding people and developing friendships and relationships is really more of a challenge that we thought it was going to be.”

In searching for a relevant simile to express the dilemma, Wilson brought up the case of his neighbor, an American Legion member. The Legion Hall is such a part of his life experience, Wilson said, that it’s where his neighbor goes to get recommendations for reliable repair work and just to share stories.

“So where’s the gay equivalent of the American Legion in Collingswood?” he asked. “I think an event like Thursday’s sort of gives us an opportunity to build some of those relationships or be a little bit more visible.”

'People are generally accepting'

Wilson knows well of what he speaks: he and his partner spent part of their lives in Indiana, where he says, they knew of exactly one other same-sex couple who lived the next state away.

“You didn’t know just how this was done,” Wilson said. “No visibility at all. So now, I take for granted that if I go to the Farmers Market on Saturday morning I’m probably going to see one or two other couples at the Farmers Market, which just makes life terribly comfortable.

“If you live in a place like Collingswood, or in the Northeast, where people are generally accepting, you just take for granted that that’s the way it is,” he said.

Night Out in Collingswood kicks off at 7 p.m. in the Pop Shop Party Room with a special LGBT-themed B.Y.O.B. trivia night hosted by drag queen Auntie Acid.

A $5 suggested donation gets you in the door, and a portion of the proceeds from your tab at The Pop Shop and Casona that evening will be donated to PFLAG. Raffles and door prizes will be awarded as well as prizes for trivia contest winners.

Wilson credits heavily the groundwork laid by organizers Lori Kerfren and Robb and Eric Sewell-Wolff, not only in publicizing the event but also in assembling an impressive array of goodies for the winning—some $3,300 worth.

The prizes include:

  • 2 Gay Bingo Tickets
  • Numerous Pottery Pieces
  • 2 Haircut Gift Certificates
  • Meditation/Spiritual Counseling
  • 2 Seats for a Painting Party
  • Jewelry Gift Card
  • Educational Classes
  • 1 night stay at Harrah's with a gourmet dinner for 2 people
  • 60-Minute Massage
  • Beauty Care Gift Certificates
  • Six Book Packages
  • Photography Session
  • Jewelry
  • 2 $50 Collingswood Cash Gift Certificates
  • Assorted Gift Certificates
  • 2 Concert Tickets
  • iMac Pet Bed
  • 4 Theatre Tickets
  • Candy Box
  • Spa Package and Products
  • Art Print
  • Photo Print
  • Floral Gift Card

Donors include:

  • AIDS Fund
  • Art Within Reach
  • Aster's Flower Shop
  • Bauhaus Hair Design Studio
  • Bob Pileggi
  • Canvas Mixers
  • Chris Eckenrode
  • David Gamber
  • Deborah Allen Hamalainen
  • Evelyn Taylor
  • Extraordinary ED
  • Frugal Resale
  • Gem Casino Travel, LLC
  • Groundwork Massage
  • Heather Ossandon
  • Jeffery Filbert
  • Jubili Beads and Yarns
  • LB Designs
  • Lethe Press
  • Lilac Blossom
  • Lisa Confora
  • Maley & Associates
  • Michael Bruce Florist
  • Mud and Fire
  • Paul Lisicky
  • Philadelphia Gay Men's Chorus
  • Robb and Eric Sewell-Wolff
  • Simply Gents
  • Siobhan Keefe
  • South Camden Theatre Company
  • The Candy Jar
  • The Treehouse Coffee Shop
  • Verde Salon
  • Whole Art Gallery & Studio
  • Yogawoood

Couldn't make it to the event but still want to show your support? Pick up a "Night Out in Collingswood"-branded item from Cafe Press (designed by Liz Battaglia of LB Designs) and your purchase will help fund your local chapter of PFLAG.

Liz Battle October 11, 2012 at 10:54 PM
Don't forget Liz Battaglia of LB Design Group designed the tee for the event, whose proceeds benefit PFLAG! http://www.lbdesigngroup.com
Suzanne Bialoskurski October 12, 2012 at 12:37 AM
This is one of the most disgusting things I have ever read. I knew this was going to happen this month and am appalled. The Almighty God does not abide with this type of sin. And it is sin. The Bible teaches it is sin and an abomination. It is called Sodomy in the Holy Scriptures. Those that read this comment will probably laugh. Do you really want to take that chance and laugh at this. Think about what you are doing. God will judge this sin and other sins that this Nation has and is committing. He is no respector of persons. You will all have to give an account of your life when our Lord and Savior returns. Each one of your will have to give an account for your sins. If I were you, I would think about this and repent and ask God forgiveness and then lead a life of purity and holiness.
Matt Skoufalos (Editor) October 12, 2012 at 01:25 AM
Thanks for your comment. I'm grateful that you took the time to write it because you have underscored completely the very reason for having a night like this in Collingswood. I hope you have never had an experience in your life where someone has measured the sum total of your worth as a human being based entirely on one facet of your humanity. Congratulations, you have heroically missed the point. I will not claim to know what God thinks of other people just as I will not claim to know what he may think of your estimation of other of his children.
Robb C. Sewell October 12, 2012 at 10:41 AM
Actually, Suzanne, it was one of the beautiful things to have ever taken place in Collingswood. A community got together to support its LGBTQ residents -- residents who are as integral to this community and to this world as you are. A community got together to raise much needed funds for PFLAG Collingswood. Dozens of people and businesses contributed to this event. People reached into their pockets and gave generously. They supported one another in love and acceptance, which as I recall from reading the Bible, is what Christ taught. It warms my heart to know that the money raised will go to battle intolerant, hateful attitudes -- vicious, hateful words that can literally destroy lives. It's too bad that you weren't there to hear the impassioned words of and to see the tears pouring from the eyes of our host who shared how his family once rejected him because of his sexuality, tried to force him to change his very essence, and how they have come to accept him and love him for the man he is, a true testament to the power of love.
Will McGowan October 12, 2012 at 06:40 PM
Dear Suzanne, the God that you worship is not the God that I learned about in 12 years of catholic school. It is precisely the hate and venom that you translate that takes Christian values and turns them into weapons. This summer, I spent some time at the beach houses of friends in Avalon. Professionals in their 30's and 40's. Do you know how much of the same "sin" you invoke took place there? Your attitudes about the Bible and its meaning are no different that Islamic extremists who mold the words of Islam to drive planes into buildings. It was packed at the Pop Shop and hurray for their support! I and many others are hoping for a monthly event. I will pray for you as well.
Paul October 12, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Thanks for speaking for God, Suzanne. I'm glad you've taken the time to help us out with his wants, needs and commands. Now how much should I sell my daughter into slavery? Exodus 21:7 never adjusted for inflation so I just needed a suggestion. Thanks!
Patrick Rumaker October 12, 2012 at 11:30 PM
Hi, Suzanne. I hope you can help me too with what God commands. I noticed that almost none of the women in my church wear veils on their heads as commanded by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11: 2-6. And the few that do have fallen into the Biblically prohibited habit of wearing cotton-polyester blends. Leviticus 19:19 expressly forbids it. How can I save these sinful women from the fires of hell?
Tom Ryan October 14, 2012 at 03:24 AM
Suzanne - I am one that read this and did not laugh. How could something filled with such disdain be found to be funny ? I learned a long time ago that I cannot control the actions of others, I can only control how I react to the actions of others. I just wonder how you can feel you are personally leading a life of purity and holiness, when you are filled with such hatred for your fellow man, and woman. We all leave this earth with a legacy, is this really how you want to be remembered?

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