Brian Burke, President & General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, will receive the inaugural "Stay Close" Sports Leadership Award from PFLAG NYC on October 11 and deliver keynote remarks on fighting homophobia and making sports more welcoming of young people who are gay.
The award will be presented to Mr. Burke by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue on behalf of PFLAG NYC — Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays of New York City. The awards dinner represents a historic first time that all four major professional sports leagues — the NHL, NFL, NBA, and MLB — come together to sponsor an effort to bring attention to the challenges faced by young athletes who are gay.
Burke, a longtime NHL executive who led the Anaheim Ducks to their 2007 Stanley Cup win, also served as general manager of Team USA, the United States men's ice hockey team at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. The public coming out of Burke's son, Brendan — an aspiring lawyer and hockey fanatic — made international headlines last year and prompted fresh and honest dialogue about the role of homophobia in sports. Following Brendan Burke's tragic death in a car crash earlier this year, his father Brian has set out to honor his memory through fierce advocacy for LGBT equality in sports.
"I am very proud to accept this award. There will come a day when a gay athlete is not a story, but that's not today," said Brian Burke about PFLAG NYC's recognition. "Until then it's all of our responsibility to raise awareness and support young people finding out they are gay. Sports are an important part of growing up for so many kids, it's tragic that a child not be able to participate, much less be made to suffer, because they are gay."
The dinner program will highlight the PFLAG NYC Safe Schools Program. In New York City's public schools, with 1.1 million students, as many as 100,000 young people may be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender and struggling with issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. Extensive research shows that these students are at higher risk to experience academic, health, social, and family-related problems. The Safe Schools Program helps make schools safer and more accepting for LGBT young people by bringing parents and relatives of LGBT people as well as LGBT people themselves into schools to share their personal experiences of finding out a loved one was gay and of coming out. By encouraging open and respectful dialogue on LGBT issues, PFLAG NYC's work in the schools fosters respect for diversity, which benefits all students—both LGBT and straight.
After a Safe Schools Program in her Brooklyn school, Blair Blackman, a social worker at Brownsville Academy High School, wrote PFLAG NYC, "The Safe Schools Program is fantastic. In the communities in which our students live, there is a great deal of homophobia. Many students are not exposed to proud and out individuals. The positive role models are crucial, as is having the opportunity to ask questions. You impacted our students in a profound and far-reaching way.
"Stay Close" Leadership Awards will also be presented to JetBlue Airways and David Steward. JetBlue will be honored with the "Stay Close" Corporate Leadership Award for its commitment to LGBT equality, both within the company and in the community. JetBlue has supported the work of PFLAG NYC since 2005 and is dedicated to improving the environment for LGBT youth in New York City and elsewhere through its involvement not just with PFLAG NYC but with organizations such as the Point Foundation, which funds academic scholarships for marginalized LGBT youth, and New York's Ali Forney Center, the nation's largest shelter for homeless LGBT youth.
"On behalf of the more than 13,000 crewmembers at New York's Hometown Airline, I'm honored to have our company recognized with PFLAG NYC's Corporate Leadership Award," said Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue's Chief People Officer. "We're proud to count JetBlue among PFLAG NYC's ardent supporters."
Steward, receiving the "Stay Close" Individual Leadership Award, has been a longtime leader in the fight for LGBT equality through work with PFLAG NYC, GLAAD and the Point Foundation, which provides financial support, mentoring, and leadership training to meritorious university students who have been marginalized due to sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
The dinner will kick off at 6 p.m. with a VIP reception hosted by Miss New York Claire Buffie, who will compete for the Miss America title in January 2011 on a platform equal civil rights for LGBT people. Ms. Buffie, whose sister is a lesbian, has personally addressed hundreds of students in New York City schools as a volunteer speaker in the Safe Schools Program.
The evening's presenters will include two Broadway stars. Actor Rory O'Malley, co-founder of Broadway Impact, the theater community's campaign for marriage equality, will serve as emcee and actress and former Miss America, Kate Shindle, will make a special appearance. As Miss America 1998, Shindle campaigned for HIV/AIDS awareness and education and she continues as an activist for HIV/AIDS issues and as a leading straight ally for full equality for LGBT people.
The event starts with Cocktails, VIP Reception, and Silent Auction at 6 p.m., followed by dinner and the awards program, on Monday, October 11, 2010, at Tribeca Rooftop, 2 Desbrosses Street, New York City.
To purchase tickets to the event, visit PFLAG NYC online at www.pflagnyc.org. For more information, contact Kara Solomon at 646-403-3682 646-403-3682 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National Hockey League (NHL), National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), MetLife, and JetBlue Airways are platinum sponsors of the event.