A local nonprofit will seize a community milestone — surrounding the Stonewall riots’ 50th anniversary — as the time to ponder both the tragic and the hopeful moments in the LGBTQIA+ cause for equality.
Broadway Sings for Pride, which has showcased performers in charitable events since 2011, is taking a different approach this year, said Neal Bennington, 37, who founded the group after the suicide of a gay teen in 2010. The upcoming event, called “Fearless,” will take place on Monday.
Musical numbers and speeches by Broadway professionals will take audiences through the last 50 years of what Bennington described as "the story of Pride" — from the Stonewall riots in 1969 and the national HIV-AIDS epidemic in the 1970s to the fight for marriage equality in the 2000s.
The history-based program will be a first for Broadway Sings for Pride.
The organization began performances soon after Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi took his own life following the release of an intimate video of him with another man. Bennington responded to the tragedy and subsequent suicides in the community with the creation of Broadway Sings for Pride, which raises awareness for the LGBTQIA+ cause through song, dance and workshops throughout the year.
With the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots on June 28, Bennington knew he had to "go big" with his upcoming event. “We’re taking all these big milestones and we’re trying to do it in an entertaining way,” he said.
Widely considered the catalyst to the modern LGBTQIA+ rights movement, the Stonewall riots were sparked when the NYPD brutalized LGBTQIA+ bar patrons during a then-routine raid of the Stonewall Inn. The site has since become a city icon and national monument, and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill publicly apologized earlier this month for the brutality that took place that night, calling it "wrong — plain and simple."
Bennington applauded the commissioner’s gesture, but said he’d rather spend his time focusing on the work at hand. "I think that I was hoping that we would move kind of past the blame and focus more on what we can do moving forward," he added.
Broadway Sings for Pride has attracted advocates and allies from The Great White Way and beyond, many of whom are longtime volunteers who will serve again this year.
“It’s nice to be part of something like this,” said Jessii Tarham, 38, of the Bronx. “It gives me a sense of pride to be a part of all of it.”
Tarham, who works in the pest control unit of the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, has volunteered with the organization for more than five years, aiding its logistical, administrative and talent-related needs.
Anne De Muro, 59, spoke at an event with her son, Tyler, who is gay, during the nonprofit’s early years. She continues to advocate for Broadway Sings for Pride on social media.
“I wanted people to know that they had a choice as to how they loved their child,” De Muro, of Poughkeepsie, said of her volunteer work. “They could either choose to walk away because they want to make it about themselves. Or they could make the choice to say, ‘I love you. You’re perfect exactly the way you are.’ "
Broadway Sings for Pride will take place at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan. Ticket prices start at $30. This year’s event will feature appearances by actress Susan Lucci, Yuhua Hamasaki, of "RuPaul’s Drag Race," and Telly Leung, who played Aladdin in Disney’s Broadway rendition. Christian rock musician Trey Pearson will host.