Debt-free Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association will donate gala funds

Money to go to five local organizations

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For the first time, proceeds from the annual Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association gala to be held next month will go to local organizations instead of paying off the organization's debt.

The 15th annual gala, this year with the theme "Giving Back," has organizers excited about going in a new direction, said Brad Bartels, co-chair of last year's gala. At that time, the organization had several thousand dollars worth of debt that had accumulated for years. The debt was finally paid off shortly after last year's event, which raised $17,000 for the organization.

Planning for the Nov. 19 event this year has been much more relaxed and free of tension, said Greg Raub, co-chair of OPALGA's board of directors. He said the addition of several new volunteers in the planning process has both been welcome and made the task more enjoyable.

Board members picked the five recipients of gala proceeds from about a dozen options that represent a cross-section of the community, Raub said. Donations will be made to the Oak Park affiliate of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), the Lesbian Community Care Project of Howard Brown Health Center, the PCC Community Wellness Center, the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance and the Broadway Youth Center.

Rebekah Levin, co-chair of the gala, said the ability to donate was a turnaround for OPALGA, and organizers appreciate the funding difficulties that other organizations may face.

"We've been there. We know what that means," she said.

Another new element to this year's event, to be held at the Nineteenth Century Charitable Association and attended by about 200 guests, will be the recognition of about a dozen people who helped create and pass the civil union law in Illinois this year. Organizers looked for people in the community who have been working behind the scenes and haven't gotten as much recognition, Bartels said.

Levin noted that passage of the law has been a major focus of the OPALGA's work since the organization was formed in 1989. The group worked to establish a domestic partnership ordinance in the early 1990s and a domestic partnership registry in Oak Park for same-sex couples in 1997, then lobbied to amend the village's human rights ordinance to include sexual orientation.

The civil union law is a huge step forward in Illinois, Levin said. It helps to accomplish OPALGA's mission of transforming society into a safe place for gay people and further normalizing their lives.

The event features silent and live auctions, a photo booth, food from Cucina Paradiso in Oak Park, a DJ and dancing. Tickets are $85 and can be purchased from OPALGA at 708-848-0273.

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