Lesbian Gay Dinner Dance
6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4
Grand Wayne Convention Center
120 W. Jefferson Blvd.,
Tix: $10 dance,
$50 dinner & dance, 260-744-1144
Lesbian Gay Dinner Dance
Dancing in the Dark No More
Early fall brings with it a remarkable variety of social events and performances, providing an eclectic offering for those in Fort Wayne looking for something to do. For the last 25 years the Lesbian Gay Dinner Dance has been a highlight of the first Saturday in October, and once again this year the event takes place in the main hall of the Grand Wayne Center.
The event was originally established as a fundraiser for the AIDS Task Force, a groundbreaking organization when it first appeared in the area during a time of crisis in the AIDS epidemic. The inaugural dinner dance attracted 50 people to its original site in the women’s room of the Chamber of Commerce building. Since that time there has been both tremendous growth and some waning attendance. At one point attendance grew to over 1,000 but has settled in recent years to about half that. Photographer David Kirk, an AIDS Task Force board member and event committee member, has seen it all in the last quarter century.
“I started going the second year of the event, so I was participating long before I was officially involved. But since I was a photographer, I used to set up and take pictures because many of those attending didn’t feel comfortable going anywhere else. Now, of course, it’s much more accepted, and people come with their phones and their own video cameras, so I don’t need to do that anymore.”
Those changes in attitudes, not to mention changes in the perception and severity of the AIDS epidemic, have been a double-edged sword. On the plus side, the social stigma of being gay in northeast Indiana has made an event dedicated to being open with others and dining out with a partner less necessary. And less problematic on many other levels.
“In those early years, people were terrified to go to a place like the Grand Wayne Center attending a gay event. People would take circuitous routes to go in so they wouldn’t be seen. And taking a camera in would be the last thing you’d consider doing. But now people walk in with their own cameras and there isn’t any worry about it. Hey, people are getting married now!”
In fact, Kirk wed his own partner Michael in a ceremony just hours before the window closed, during the days of June 25-27 when the marriage ban was lifted just long enough for many couples to exchange vows. During that time, as they stood in line to marry, Kirk and his husband-to-be were approached by a newspaper writer asking to take their photo and ask some questions.
“We kind of looked at each other and said, ‘Sure,’ and just a couple of years ago we never would have done that. So that goes to show how much things have changed in just a couple years.”
The downside of that is many also no longer fear AIDS as they once did, leaving them somewhat ambivalent about attending a fundraiser.
“A lot of our younger people think AIDS isn’t that big of a deal. They don’t remember what it was like to have your friends die. They don’t have the mindset to support it anymore, so we’re trying to reach out to the younger crowd to let them know what the AIDS Task Force does so we can get the word out.”
And while it’s true that the AIDS virus need no longer be an automatic death sentence, there is still much to be done, and the local AIDS Task Force has much to do and much to fund.
“The task force serves 400 clients in 14 counties,” says Kirk. “So it’s not just Allen County we’re dealing with, it’s a large group of counties. The need for funding is certainly there. We have 20 people on our staff, so there are budgetary problems. We have so many people who need assistance, who need help getting their medications. And among the goals of the task force is to help educate the public. I think with our new director [Jeffrey Markley] we’re taking steps in that direction. We’re the only agency in town that does that work, and we were the first agency of its kind in Indiana.”
While there’s important work to be done, the event which promises to fund those services is anything but work. The evening begins with cocktails and socializing before the dinner is served, followed by a short program. This year’s speakers will address the significant changes and progress in marriage equality this year, a timely and historic topic for everyone. A new DJ will get people on the dance floor while a silent auction will continue throughout the evening. A live auction will also feature larger prizes like vacation getaways.
Although one of the original goals of the Lesbian Gay Dinner Dance was to provide a safe semi-formal occasion for couples who were otherwise afraid to be seen in public, the current lack of secrecy and the growing support of the straight population have made this a “come one, come all” event. Kirk says the tagline for this year is “Everyone Is Welcome, No Matter Who They Love.” Making things even easier is a new online ticket site, DinnerDance.AIDSFortWayne.org, which provides a convenient way to join the fun.
Kirk says another added attraction this year is the return of the Bag Ladies of Indianapolis, a group he says he just learned about a couple years ago himself.
“They’re a group of guys who dress in drag, but they don’t try to make themselves pretty. They really do caricatures and help raise money for AIDS related causes. We had them here last year, and the crowd just loved them. They really know how to work a crowd, and they know how to make some money.”
Which, when all the dining and dancing is done, is the event’s most important outcome.