Tea Time in the Desert with Thelma Houston
We caught up with both Thelma Houston and AIDS Assistance Program Foundation's Mark Anton recently to find out what the superstar disco diva and the HIV/AIDS services CEO had to say about the Second Annual Tea Dance, coming Sunday, September 29 at the Saguaro Hotel.
"Basically we put on a lot of fundraisers for the year," said Anton, describing how he and his team create the programs that support hundreds of clients to live healthy and fulfilling lives in the face of a life-threatening disease - a disease that is still with us despite dangerous perceptions that HIV/AIDS is no big deal nowadays.
"It's difficult," Anton says. "Our goal is to raise funds to do what we do with no federal or state contributions. The money we derive from our events funds us."
Enter the diva: "The idea of the tea dance is fun because it hearkens back to the day when the tea dances were very popular," said Thelma Houston, whose disco anthem, "Don't Leave Me This Way" still brings chills to the spines of LGBT dance revelers from Nome to Nashville. "We had tea dances at all the gay clubs and venues in the '70s and '80s. You know, it sort of put the button on the weekend party."
Houston recalled that the "weekend party" used to start on Thursday night. "That's how we did it!" she says, laughing slightly. "This will be a fun time, but the reason behind it is important. There's such a need. Although great strides have been made in AIDS in certain areas of our society."
Houston has long supported the gay community's largely successful fight when the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) first made headlines in America. She hopes to direct more attention to demographic that hasn't had as much, but has suffered the affects of HIV/AIDS more in recent years. "That's true especially with young black women in their 20s and 30s," Houston told The Rage Monthly. "There's a lot of medication and there's not as much of a threat. But people are still dying; there is not a cure."
When asked why such a special relationship has evolved between gay men and straight black women such as herself in American society over the past four or five decades, Houston was definite in her reply: "Because black women are fabulous," she exclaims. "I wouldn't mind being a gay man. And, if I were a gay man, maybe I'd want to be a black woman.
"For me personally, the connection to the gay community came when 'Don't Leave Me This Way' became an anthem for a movement about equality for the gay community."
According to Anton, Houston's appearance at the upcoming Tea Dance will help bridge the gap between generations. "This is a great event because it's more affordable to more young people and folks on a budget than some of our other fundraisers," Anton said. "It's going to be a fun event for all. And it comes right at the end of summer, when we all really need some reason to get together for some cool fun." It takes place under the stars and is, as Anton puts it, basically big gigantic pool party with lots of appetizers and a no-host bar. "We expect about 600 people to show," he said. "There's going to be great sound, light and an amazing DJ - Danny Bonham - we're flying in."
AIDS Assistance operates with the help of about 45 volunteers ranging in age from 25 to 60 and has about 500 recipients, three of whom came to mind when Mark Anton was asked to describe what kind of people his group helps. "We have a client who is an 82-year-old woman," he told us. "She has already lost her son, son-in-law and her husband to AIDS."
Looking forward, both Anton and Houston have much on their plates. "I'm working with a young musician on an exciting project," Houston said. "We're called Thelma Houston and The Janitor. The EP we've produced is called 'Forty Two.' " (For more information go to thelmahouston.com)
AIDS Assistance Foundation will be gearing up for its big, signature November fundraiser. "That's our 'Hollywood Dinner and Dish' sit-down dinner with Jackie Collins and Bruce Villanche," Anton said. "It's about 60 people and $1,000 per plate."
For more information about the decidedly more affordable Tea Dance and all of the organizations fundraising events as well as its HIV/AIDS services programs, visit aidsassistance.org