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AIDS Task Force Benefit attracts crowd of 350

Sunday, March 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

If facial expressions give a voice to the inner monologue of those wearing them, suffice to say that there was somewhat of a love-hate relationship brewing between the audience and the raucous, jaw-dropping drag queen, aka Varla Jean Merman, during the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force Benefit on March 20.

One thing that was unanimous was a show of hands promptly covering mouths 30 seconds into her performance, which skipped the zero and went straight to 60 for a crowd of 350 that included honorary co-chairs Nachum Golan and Steve Hough, Jim and Kathe Patrinos, Dr. Elliott Kramer and Bill Modrak, Dr. Larry Leahy and John Vandegrift, Eileen French and Patrick Jordan, Hon. Robert and Violet Gallo, Richard Parsakian, Gene Welsh and David McAdams, Nancy Traina, and Dr. Lisa Cibik.

Prior to the split decision, the evening was buzzing with the arrival of VIPs to the Pittsburgh Opera headquarters in the Strip District, where Kerry Stoner Awardees Linda and Tony Bucci found themselves surrounded by well-wishers. “It's such a wonderful organization we've been involved with for a long time,” offered Tony.

Meanwhile, a few trepidations early on guaranteed no qualms later about making good use of two tented lounge vignettes set up by creative chair Bill Chisnell, “I just wanted people to have fun,” he said, while event co-chairs David Seman, Keri Harmicar and Samuel Badger learned to share the spotlight with Badger's crystallized loafers. “They're Swarovski-encrusted,” he explained.

Never one to rest on his laurels, emcee Ted Pappas did an applause-worthy job of trying to break the ice with a couple of jabs that some got and others didn't. “I see a lot of new faces that used to be old faces,” he said playfully, before adding, “I've never seen this many gay men in one place since the rehearsals for ‘Billy Budd.' ”

At the very core, the evening served to further the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force mission of empowering and supporting all individuals living with HIV/AIDS. “We're at a turning point in the fight against HIV. We're seeing we can make an end to HIV (and) we're focused on breaking the stigma,” said director Chuck Christen.




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