Last night, many of The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada's biggest supporters came out for its annual Honorarium benefit event at Palms' Rain nightclub.
It was largely similar to those editions of years previous. There were performers, socializing, and a silent auction featuring donated goods of both the manufactured and homemade variety. Besides making general appeals for donations, the Center solicited for cash to finish building/renovating its new downtown digs, due to open on Maryland Parkway early 2013 and slated to cost $3 million (not including another $1 million to amend current operating costs for the new facility).
A Woman of the Year honor went to generous Center supporter and general local philanthropist Kris McGarry, daughter of one-time Imperial Palace owner Ralph Englestad. Volunteer of the Year kudos went to former Center Executive Board member and all-around go-getter Desiree Duncan, who started the always fabulous Artrageous Vegas benefit bash. Kris and Desiree deserved the recognition, as they have in other instances and events where they've received it.
There was another honoree: Man of the Year Todd VonBastiaans. And I'd like to say something about him here, because (full disclosure) I know him well, and because, the Honorarium aside, I think he's an unsung hero.
Todd is one of the most selfless members of the downtown and gay communities. But his generosity, like his sexuality, isn't something he throws in people's faces.
He's mostly a behind-the-scenes guy, one whose lighting company, Alios, illuminates various cultural functions in town. A bunch of lights had to be installed for the Neon Museum's recent re-opening nighttime events, to brighten the non-working neon signs out back. Those lights had to come from somewhere, and they were donated from and set up by Todd.
More publicly, Todd — also an artist and owner of the gallery also called Alios — serves as a board member of the 18b Arts District. He served the same role for First Friday not too long ago, too. People like to nowadays brag about how they supported downtown and the arts district before the area's recent renaissance, but many of them have really only been doing so since the mid-2000s. Todd was active in that scene earlier than that, and he doesn't feel the need to throw that in people's faces, either.
He's also the guy who opens his wallet for specific, worthwhile causes. I remember going to the 2009 Honorarium, and when the donation campaign speaker began soliciting donations for $10,000, I expected only casino and corporate representatives to pony up such a large amount of dough. But the first hand to shoot up was from Todd, an independent business owner. At first, I was surprised he'd offer such a large monetary gift. But then I thought, well, of course. Because if I could assign Todd an M.O., it's that he gives a shit.
And, as The Center's Executive Director Candice Nichols put it last night, "I don't think Todd possesses the ability to say no."
To be sure, Todd doesn't just give handouts and advocate everything just to be the good guy. As I said, he gives a shit, but sometimes giving a shit means having to take an opposing or even unpopular stance on something. There are times where I've questioned the motives of certain public figures, or have opined publicly and/or critically about specific aspects of gay Las Vegas. And when I share these thoughts with Todd, I often find a sympathetic and/or agreeing ear. But he doesn't take that opportunity to be sassy and catty. He just cares about the community.
As someone with little overlap into the gay mainstream, I have always been able to relate to Todd. He defies stereotypes. He doesn't make decisions or statements with regard to how people will perceive them (or him). And his honesty is refreshing; he doesn't look to say the thing others want to hear.
It's for those reasons and others that he can rightfully claim an unimpeachable integrity. Except that he'd never verbalize any such claim. He's a doer, not a talker — "He is never a passive participant," said Nichols — and when he talks, even to accept an award, it's not about himself.
That's why I think he's an unsung hero, and that's why I'm singing about him here. Congratulations, my friend — and man of the year.