$50 for 50 by 50 #6: The Los Angeles LGBT Center

I’m turning 50 this year and instead of whining about it, I’m trying to do something positive by donating $50 to 50 different charities before I’m 50 years old.

I was going to take a few days before picking my next $50 for 50 by 50 but then providence stepped in via an email from the Los Angeles LGBT Center, asking me to renew my membership with them for, you guessed it, $50.

The Los Angeles LGBT Center traces its roots to 1969 when the founders of the organization first began providing client services. Today the Center’s more than 450 employees and 3,000 volunteers provide services for more LGBT people than any other organization in the world through health, social services and housing, culture and advocacy, and leadership and advocacy programs. They provide shelter, food, medical care and more for homeless LGBT youth (who make up a disproportionately large percentage of homeless kids) and are providing counseling and support services for LGBT seniors, who are often isolated and unable to make ends meet.

To learn more visit LALGBTCenter.org.

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$50 for 50 by 50 #5: GoFundMe Brussels Terror Attack Relief Campaign

I’m turning 50 this year and instead of whining about it, I’m trying to do something positive by donating $50 to 50 different charities before I’m 50 years old.

$50 for 50 by 50 #5 is going to this GoFundMe campaign that is seeking to raise $100,000 to aid the victims of the Brussels terrorist bombings last week. GoFundMe is also going to kick in an extra $25K on top when they hit the goal and all funds, including fees, are going to go directly to support the victims and families.

Learn more and donate at GoFundMe.com/prayforbrussels.

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$50 for 50 by 50 #4: The Neon Museum

I’m turning 50 this year and instead of whining about it, I’m trying to do something positive by donating $50 to 50 different charities before I’m 50 years old.

Arrgh! Only a couple of weeks into my project and I’m already behind. That’s what a week in Las Vegas for work (and a little bit of fun) will do to you.

So, with that in mind, I have decided that my next $50 for 50 by 50 is going to be for a Las Vegas organization, The Neon Museum. Here’s more about it from my site Vegas4Visitors.com:

For decades the Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO) has been creating the majority of the amazing neon artwork – yes I called it artwork – that has adorned the fronts of the hotels and casinos in Las Vegas. Actually it goes way beyond that – the neon signs on gas stations, motels, convenience stores, and just about everything else in this city have mostly been done by YESCO.

But as The Strip has marched relentlessly forward toward a more sanitized, upscale, corporate image, the neon signs that adorned the fronts of the casinos have fallen by the wayside, viewed by many as tacky and antiquated. Whether they were replaced by one of those gigantic pseudo-TV screens (yeah, those aren’t tacky) as a hotel remodeled or removed just before the implosion, neon has faded on Las Vegas Boulevard.

Since YESCO technically owns the signs (they are leased to the hotels), they offered refuge to many of the former glories, creating what was colloquially known as the Neon Boneyard. This big fenced off lot located near their main facility was where classic neon artwork was left to fade and rot in the unrelenting Nevada sun. The signs represented the last bits of the colorful history that Las Vegas has swept away in the name of modernity.

And there they probably would’ve stayed if it hadn’t been for the efforts of The Neon Museum, a not-for-profit organization that rescued the signs in conjunction with YESCO and set out on an ambitious project to restore them and/or preserve their unique place in Vegas’ history.

For the last several years, the Neon Museum has consisted of a few restored signs along and adjacent to The Fremont Street Experience in Downtown Vegas plus a relocated Boneyard that offered limited tours. Now, a permanent, open-to-the-general-public facility is up and running and it offers an amazing glimpse into Las Vegas’ past.

I’m a big of Vegas history so supporting this effort to preserve such an important part of it is a no-brainer.

To learn more visit neonmuseum.org

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$50 for 50 by 50 #3: The Innocence Project

I’m turning 50 this year and instead of whining about it, I’m trying to do something positive by donating $50 to 50 different charities before I’m 50 years old.

I love binge-watching TV.  Perhaps a little too much.  Roughly 13 hours my life was lost last weekend when “House of Cards” season 4 came out and it isn’t the first time that has happened.

Another lost weekend is when I watched “Making a Murderer” on Netflix.

The documentary series is about Steven Avery, a man who was sent to prison for raping a woman in Wisconsin but freed after 18 years in large part due to the efforts of The Innocence Project.   That’s a tiny spoiler but I won’t tell you the rest if you haven’t seen it – what happens after he gets out of prison is the crux of the series and it’s incredible.

While I was watching it, I couldn’t help but remember an incident that happened to me about 20 years ago.  Before I tell this story, I want to stress that I know that what I went through is nothing compared to what Steven Avery and all the other people in the US who have been falsely imprisoned have had to endure, but it was still scary as hell.

Back in 1994, I had gone out at lunch to pick up a package at the post office (plane tickets to Iowa where they were doing one of my plays) and then grab some food at the Chinese place nearby.  As I came out of the restaurant, there was a plain-wrap police car blocking me from getting out of my parking space.  Two detectives pointed at my car and asked if it was mine – I replied yes.  They radioed and moments later two or three patrol cars came up quickly.  I asked what was going on and they wouldn’t tell me and instead asked me where I had been, what I was doing there, and so on.  They asked if they could search the car and I’m a 20-something and freaked out and so I said yes (understand my rights better now).

They finally told me that a little girl had been attacked nearby and the description of the car the person had sped away in matched mine and I matched the general description of the person who had done it.

They asked me to step out into the main drive of the shopping center and they had another plain wrap car pull up at the end of the aisle – maybe 150 feet from me.  In the back of the car was a little girl – she leaned forward, looked at me, and nodded.

They put me in cuffs, read me my rights, and put me in the back of a police car.  I’m trying not to weep hysterically at this point and suddenly I remembered the plane tickets… I told the cop that I had a receipt from the post office that would show that I couldn’t have been there.  About 20 minutes went by and I’m sitting in the back of the car cuffed the entire time until finally they pulled me out and uncuffed me.  The detective says, “If you did this, you’re really lucky and if you didn’t, sorry about that.”

Then I got in my car with my cold Chinese food and sobbed like an idiot.

It’s terrifying how thin the line is between your normal life and utter ruin – if I hadn’t had that receipt, I probably would have been taken to jail and booked, would have had to hire a lawyer, maybe even gone to trial.  And the entire time people would be looking at me as a child molester.

So donation #3 in my $50 for 50 by 50 campaign is the Innocence Project, the organization that uses DNA testing and other methods to exonerate people who have been imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit.   For more information or to make a donation, visit innocenceproject.org.

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$50 for 50 by 50 #2: AIDS Project Los Angeles

I’m turning 50 this year and instead of whining about it, I’m trying to do something positive by donating $50 to 50 different charities before I’m 50 years old.

Okay, in an attempt to be gracious about a dead woman, Hilary said some stupid, uninformed stuff about the history of AIDS in this country.  She apologized and then she really apologized and I’m good with that, especially considering how much she and her husband have done or tried to do over the years related to the disease (much of which is detailed in the really apologized link above).

In a way I’m glad all this happened.  I mean, I hate it when people I like and support and admire say stupid, uninformed things but that just proves they are human – I’m thinking of glass houses and great, big stones.  But at least it kicked AIDS into the national conversation again, something that it sorely needed.

I came to Los Angeles in 1985, when AIDS was already a crisis and I worked in the gay bars as a bouncer, a bartender, and a DJ.  I saw the crisis up close during its worst days.  I lost several people that I could call good friends, probably a dozen more that I was friendly with, and at least a hundred others that I knew.  For awhile there were funerals every week – not just one but many.

Since then things have changed, dramatically.  The advancements in drug therapy have turned a certain death sentence into a chronic, but manageable disease.  The “PReP” treatment regimen has become as close as we have been to an inoculation.   Still, there are over 50,000 new infections every year and 1 million people in this country living with HIV.

I am one of them.  I don’t talk about it a lot, mainly because it’s a non-issue in my life.  I take pills, I see the doctor every 4 months for blood tests, and the virus is completely undetectable in my body.  It is much more likely that I will die from a recurrence of esophageal cancer than I will of HIV.

But I am both informed and lucky, in that I have really good health insurance and great access to quality medical care.  A lot of people are not informed and/or lucky and for them, organizations like AIDS Project Los Angeles are an imperative.

In 1982, as a panicked community faced a deadly new disease, a group of four friends attended an emergency meeting, determined to help. They raised $7,000 at a Christmas benefit – the seed money to launch AIDS Project Los Angeles, which began with five clients. Today, they serve more than 11,000 with first-rate HIV/AIDS care and prevention programs and fight for smart, effective HIV-related public policy.

Learn more about APLA on their website or check this article on About.com for other notable AIDS organizations in the United States.

My second $50 for 50 by 50 has gone to APLA.

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$50 for 50 by 50 #1: The Trevor Project

I’m going to be 50 years old in a little under 6 months.  The thought of that both hurts my head and makes me itch in unspecified ways.

But it also makes me feel incredibly lucky.  Considering all the crap that has gone wrong with me over the years, not the least of which was a fun little joy ride with cancer, the fact that I have made it to 49 is quite the accomplishment if I do say so myself.  Add in the facts that I have a job (that drives me crazy, but it’s a job), I am very well paid, I get to do stuff outside the job that makes me happy (I’m writing a third TV movie!), and I have friends that I adore, and it all adds up to a pretty good total for almost 50.

I wanted to do something special to mark the occasion and considered all sorts of 50-related things: a bucket list of 50 items, trying to take a bunch of weekend jaunts so I could say I had visited all 50 states (I have 13 left), and the like.  But the realities of my schedule and my attention span led me to keep nuking the various options as being too time consuming and/or too pain-in-the-ass-ing.

So instead, I have decided to do something proactive and yet not have to actually get out of my comfy chair to do so – I’m going to give $50 to 50 different charities before I turn 50 years old.   As of today there are 177 days until my birthday so that means 2-3 donations every week.

I’m going to blog and Facebook (yes, it’s a verb) about this, not to get attention for myself but to hopefully draw attention to the worthwhile organizations that I am going to be supporting.   I know that $50 to any single organization isn’t going to be life changing for any of them, but maybe you’ll consider donating also to the ones you agree are worth knowing about.  Every little bit counts.

I also want to hear from you.  If you have suggestions of worthwhile organization to support, send me an email.  There are thousands out there so coming up with 50 shouldn’t be hard!

My inaugural $50 for 50 by 50 is going to an organization that I think does some incredibly important work: The Trevor Project, which is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10-24.  Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are 4 times more likely and questioning youth are 3 times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.  It gets even worse for transgender youth, a full quarter of which have attempted suicide.

The Trevor Project runs 24 hour crisis intervention services plus online chat and text intervention support; produces educational material and support training; and runs community services around the country to support LGBTQ youth.

This is important to me because I remember what it was like to be questioning my sexuality when I was a kid.  Coming from a very religious household, the thought of it terrified me and I remember praying, asking to not be gay.  I was bullied, I was rejected, and I considered suicide – I even made a half-hearted attempt at it when I was 16.  I wish an organization like The Trevor Project had been around when I was a kid.

To learn more or to donate, please visit thetrevorproject.org.

$50 for 50 by 50 #1: The Trevor Project.

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