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Vasquez Dem Club honors Nolan, Astoria gay activists

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The borough’s new gay Democratic club was to honor state Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood), two gay activists from Astoria and the state’s first openly gay legislator Thursday night.

The Guillermo Vasquez Independent Democratic Club is sponsoring its first annual awards dinner at La Fusta Restaurant in Elmhurst, marking the organization’s first fund-raiser since its creation last summer as a political voice for disenfranchised members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community in Queens.

“We really wanted to honor those who’ve made a contribution to the community, both legislators and activists on the ground,” said Pauline Park, the club’s co-vice president.

The group will present its first-ever awards to two members of the state Assembly — Nolan and Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan) — as well as two activists from Astoria, Daniel Castellanos, a founding board member of the Queens Pride House, and Brad Usher, chief of staff to state Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan).

Nolan, a veteran legislator from Ridgewood who has served in the Assembly since 1985, has been a staunch supporter of gay rights during the length of her tenure, the club’s leaders said.

“In our view, Cathy is perhaps the most independent and progressive legislator in Queens,” Park said. “She has been a real champion of women’s issues, labor issues and LGBT issues, among others. She is unfailingly generous with her time and her office is a real resource for not only her constituents but for others in Queens who look to her for leadership on these issues.”

The club’s award for Glick, the first openly gay member of the state Legislature, comes only one month after Gov. George Pataki signed the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, which she was instrumental in getting the Assembly to pass.

Nolan cited a precursor to that act — a bill banning housing discrimination against gays which passed the Assembly in 1985 but never reached the Senate — for setting the tone of her own support for LGBT issues.

“It really was an important step,” Nolan said of her vote for the bill in her first year as an assemblywoman. “I felt it was the right thing and never really looked back and have been supportive in as many ways as I can.”

Castellanos is the assistant director of community-level intervention at the Institute for Gay Men’s Health at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, an HIV/AIDS service organization. Born and raised in Colombia, Castellanos co-founded the Colombian Lesbian & Gay Association and created Proyecto P.A.P.I., an HIV prevention program for Latino gay and bisexual men in the city.

“He does so much work behind the scenes and doesn’t get recognized,” Park said. “Although he’s quite well known within the activist community, we felt that he deserved special recognition as a real leader in the LGBT community in Queens.”

Usher began his political career on the state senate campaign of Ed Sedarbaum, the borough’s first openly gay candidate for public office, who challenged state Sen. George Onorato (D-Astoria) in the 1998 primary. He then went to work for state Sen. Tom Duane (D-Manhattan), the first openly gay member of the City Council and the state Senate, before he took his current post with Krueger.

Usher also served as the campaign manager for Van Bramer’s 2001 bid, which he lost at the primary level after receiving the second highest number of votes in a crowded field of candidates.

“He is probably one of the most principled activists that I have ever met,” Van Bramer said of Usher. “He is unflinching in his desire for good politics that’s progressive, that reaches out to everyone, that empowers minorities of all kinds.”

The dinner begins at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 9 at La Fusta Restaurant, 80-32 Baxter Ave., in Elmhurst. Tickets are $35.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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