25 Stories: Bernadette Goes Uptown


September 25, 2012



In a few short weeks, we’ll be transforming the Indianapolis Downtown Marriott into a grand gala, a masquerade ball to celebrate our 25th year of service to Central Indiana, an evening to outshine all others. The Grande Masquerade is nearly upon us. With this magnificent [read: super fun and fancy] celebration just on the horizon, we thought it’d be fun to look back at the history of our fundraisers. Turns out, The Damien Center has a legacy of hosting rockin’ parties, performances, and other fundraising events to get the word out and raise money. Tom Alvarez, one of our earliest supporters and fundraisers, sat down with us to talk about “Bernadette Galanti Goes Uptown for The Damien Center,” which was, according to Tom, as fantastic as it sounds.

At the time (late 80s/early 90s), Bernadette Galanti was a well-known performer at the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s Cabaret. (Yes, the IRT had a Cabaret. Yes, we wish they still did.) As a performer who had lived in New York City for some time in the 1980s, Bernadette knew people who had HIV/AIDS and was interested in supporting the cause, so Tom, a former television producer, enlisted her to put on a show for The Damien Center. “It was one night only," Tom says, “and it was a first-class affair all the way around.” As a result of her one-woman show at Broad Ripple’s Vogue Theater, Bernadette became very popular within the gay community and “became our local Liza Minelli,” Tom recalls. This event, he says, was one that helped organize and solidify the gay community “not only around the AIDS issue but by being public and by being out there.”

What did Tom and his fellow organizers learn from this, one of their first fundraising undertakings? Sponsors sponsors sponsors. “Most of the proceeds went toward the expenses,” Tom says, “so what we learned was that you really have to have sponsorships for those kinds of things. This was all kind of virgin territory, not only to us, but to the gay community in general.” And with that, we'd like to thank our extremely generous Grande Masquerade sponsors, especially our Event Presenting Sponsors, McNamara Florist and Marion County Public Health Department.

Now, back to the show. It wasn’t just for fun. Bernadette’s performance was, like other fundraisers for AIDS service organizations at the time, critical to how early activists were able to get the word out about AIDS in places like Indianapolis. “AIDS like in many other places, forced people to come forward and to come out, because it was very clear to us that if we didn’t, it was just going to make things worse,” Tom explains. “If we didn’t step forward to educate our community, the larger community, the epidemic would as quickly or grow more quickly.”

So, people like Tom stepped up and started to organize events like Bernadette’s show. Today, we have events like Grande Masquerade that continue the legacy of FUNdraising, bringing awareness to HIV/AIDS as a cause, and bringing people together in the name of a better community. So whether you’ve been around long enough to remember “Bernadette Galanti Goes Uptown” or are just getting your feet wet in supporting The Damien Center, we thank you and hope you’ll join us for this year’s Grande Masquerade on October 20.