Folsom Street East Receives The Community Heroes Award

On April 28, 2016 the Board of Folsom Street East was honored to accept The New York City Anti-Violence Project’s Community Hero Award recognizing their continued partnership for over twenty years with AVP.

AVP’s Community Heroes Awards is an annual forum for appreciating the volunteers, community groups and organizations who are vital partners in AVP’s work to end violence affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and HIV-affected people in New York City.

Pictured (Left to Right): Dave Hughes, FSE President; Robert Lopez FSE Secretary and AVP Staff; Andrew Harwin, FSE Volunteer Leader; Beverly Tillery, AVP Executive Director; Josh Parkin-Ring, FSE Board Member; Tom Dick, FSE Treasurer; in front: Matt Johnson, FSE Chairman.
Pictured (Left to Right): Dave Hughes, FSE President; Robert Lopez FSE Secretary and AVP Staff; Andrew Harwin, FSE Volunteer Leader; Beverly Tillery, AVP Executive Director; Josh Parkin-Ring, FSE Board Member; Tom Dick, FSE Treasurer; in front: Matt Johnson, FSE Chairman.

New York Anti-Violence Project staff member and Folsom Street East Board Member Robert Lopez introduced the award by his remarks:

FSE Treasurer and AVP Staff, Robert Lopez introduces awardee Folsom Street East.
FSE Secretary and AVP Staff, Robert Lopez introduces awardee Folsom Street East.

“Thank you Bev. Good Evening. My name is Robert Lopez and I am the Manager of Hotline and Data Systems for the New York City Anti-Violence Project. I’m thrilled to be with all of you tonight here at HBO. It’s so exciting to see so many new faces in the crowd and so many familiar ones. The Community Hero Awards and I have quite the relationship. I received an award in 2013 for my volunteer service with AVP and oh what an honor it was. Last year, I hosted the awards and that was so much fun.

Tonight, I’m thrilled to present a Community Hero Award to Folsom Street East, Inc.

Picture it, Chelsea, 2012… a handsome bearish AVP volunteer just arriving on 28th street (between 10th and 11th Ave); boy was I excited, it was my very first Folsom Street East Street Festival. Clad in my AVP Tee-shirt, very proudly displaying “I am anti-violence and pro whips, chains and everything exciting”. I looked forward to sharing space with other like minded folks who were interested in leather, kink and fetish. I had no idea what Folsom Street East did, other than meet at AVP for their monthly board meetings and host this kick ass street festival that I heard so much about.

Today, my understanding of Folsom Street East as an organization and the amazing team behind the work is substantially different. I was so inspired by the work that they were doing I joined their board in November of 2014.

The relationship between Folsom Street East and AVP has been one that spans the entire length of the organization’s existence. The street festival has been a way for the organization to encourage those that are a part of the Leather/Kink and fetish communities of New York to connect with other organizations that provide services to New York City’s LGBTQ and HIV Affected communities. With sponsorship and support from businesses, community organizations and individuals, Folsom Street East has produced the largest Kink/Leather/Fetish event on the east coast and other events to raise funds and grant more than $150,000 since the First Street Festival in 1997 to beneficiaries such as Cycle for the Cause, VisualAIDS, The LGBT Community Center, Housing Works, God’s Love We Deliver and AVP. Since 2007 they have granted over $35,000 to the New York City Anti-Violence Project and sponsored Fusion, our annual pride party twice.

Folsom Street East is a working board made up of 7 individuals and 100’s of volunteers who are committed to this labor of love, of creating public spaces where community members can feel free to express their sexual identity, support organizations that serve our communities and most of all have fun.

There are no paid staff and everything that the organization accomplishes is because of the hard work and dedication of their small but dedicated team.

It is with great pleasure I present this Community Hero Award to Folsom Street East, Inc. Accepting on behalf of Folsom Street East is Chair of the Board Matt Johnson.”

On accepting the award on behalf of the Folsom Street East Board, Chairman Matt Johnson had these remarks:

FSE Chairman, Matt Johnson accepts the Community Hero Award on behalf of the FSE Board of Directors.
FSE Chairman, Matt Johnson accepts the Community Hero Award on behalf of the FSE Board of Directors.

“Thank you, Robert, and on behalf of the Folsom Street East board thank you to everyone at AVP for this honor.

My name’s Matt Johnson, I chair the board, and since Robert shared his story of how he was called to the event and the organization, I will share mine.  Folsom Street East was the first pride event I ever attended, and I got sent there by work. When I asked my boss why I was scheduled to do HIV outreach at this particular venue, he said, “Well, you look like the sort of person who would go.”

And indeed, over time I became the sort of person who went. That was back in 1999, at what I now know was our third festival, and I was 21. Coming out as kinky – never mind queer – in my teens wasn’t easy. I crossed paths with a number of people who took advantage of my inexperience and my isolation and left me harboring a low opinion of queer and kinky people in general – including myself.

My first Folsom East was an early step in turning that story around. From the people I met there, I learned that I could own being a weirdo without being an outcast. I learned to be present in my body, to respect my intuition, to defend my safety and my integrity, and to protect those of others. I learned how to make queer friends, and that those friends can become family.  And then one day some of those friends asked if I’d help run the first pride event I ever attended, and I asked them, “Why me?” And they said, “You seem like the sort of person who could.”

A few of those friends are here tonight, and they each have their own Folsom East stories to tell. For those who are here, and for the countless others who are not, it is my privilege to offer our thanks.

AVP and Folsom Street East share a nearly twenty-year history, thanks principally to our event’s founder, John Weis, who first brought us together. Thank you, John, for your vision.

Thanks to our entire board: Dave Hughes, Josh Parkin-Ring, Marie Gagnon, Robert Lopez, Rudy Flesher, and Tom Eversman. Working so closely with such a knowledgeable, talented, dedicated team is a rare opportunity and one I treasure.

Thanks to our 100+ volunteers every year, most especially Andrew Harwin and Mike Ryan, who have been excelling at this work longer than any of the rest of us.

The festival simply would not happen without you. Thanks to all of our past volunteers, committee members, and board members. Thanks for the support we have received from the Mayor’s office, the City Council’s LGBT Caucus, and Manhattan Community Board 4 that has enabled us to continue the festival in Chelsea.

Thanks to our sponsors, exhibitors, entertainers, and our attendees, who make every year’s event great.

Thanks finally and especially to AVP, for the heroic work you all do every day, for welcoming us into your space and enabling us to meet and plan, and for standing by us through a period of monumental change in our city, our neighborhood, our community, and our organization.

The street festival is Sunday, June 19th – we hope you’ll join us as a guest or as a volunteer! Thank you.”

AVP Executive Director Beverly Tillery introduces the 2016 Awards
AVP Executive Director Beverly Tillery introduces the 2016 Awards

After the event the New York Anti-Violence Project reflected on the award and it’s relationship with Folsom Street East:

“The New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP) was deeply honored to present a Community Heroes Award to Folsom Street East on April 28th, 2016. AVP’s Community Heroes awards are an annual forum for appreciating the volunteers and community groups and organizations who are vital partners in our work to end violence affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and HIV-affected people in New York City. As one of our longest standing and most meaningful partnerships, we were grateful to honor Folsom Street East.

Robert Lopez, AVP’s Manager of Hotline and Data Systems and Folsom Street Board Member, presented the award to Matt Johnson, saying “The relationship between Folsom Street East and AVP has been one that spans the entire length of the organization’s existence. The street festival has been a way for the organization to encourage those that are a part of the Leather/Kink and fetish communities of New York to connect with other organizations that provide services to New York City’s LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities.”

That connection is something for which AVP is incredibly grateful. Since 2007 Folsom Street East has granted over $35,000 to AVP as a beneficiary of their signature Street Festival and sponsored our annual pride party twice. We look forward to continuing our partnership with Folsom Street East, and working together to make our city safer for LGBTQ people. “