On October 28th, Salah Bachir, media mogul, philanthropist, and our honorary patron, presented the Annual Gala and raised $350,000 in support of The 519, Canada’s largest and most prominent LGBTQ2S community centre. The evening’s program took the form of a welcome reception, then dinner, followed by a cabaret-style performance by award-winning singer, dancer, and actor Ben Vereen.
Vereen originated roles in the legendary Broadway musicals Jesus Christ Superstar and Pippin, recorded for Motown Records and portrayed memorable parts in popular TV series such as Webster, The Love Boat and the landmark miniseries, Roots. He has been twice nominated for a Tony Award, winning “Best Actor in a Musical” for Pippin. He has also been nominated for two Emmy Awards and three Golden Globe Awards for his television appearances. In 2011, Vereen was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.
The evening began with Bachir warmly welcoming guests in The 519’s ballroom, and introducing the opening act singer-pianist Theo Tams. The Canadian Idol winner enlivened the room with emotional and moving ballads from his 2009 release Call the Doctor.
The evening’s headliner Ben Vereen lived up to his legend, taking those gathered through a rousing journey of the Great American Songbook, interspersed with some iconic Broadway hits from Hair, Pippin, Wicked, and more. Especially resonant was a section dedicated to Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., and a show-stopping interpretation of “My Funny Valentine” accompanied with a virtuoso bass solo.
Hosting or donating tables at the Gala were Emmanuelle Gattuso, Kate and David Daniels, Sylvia Mantella, Nada Ristich, The Slaight Family Foundation The Honourable Bill Graham and Bonte Minnema, Salah Bachir and Jacob Yerex, TD Bank, Bell Media, CIBC, Scotiabank, Cineplex Media, Matthew Logue, and more. Guests in the room included Norman and Lynne Jewison, Valerie and Andy Pringle, Dan and Kerry McGrath, Jaime Watt, Don McKellar, Kristyn Wong-Tam, Nanci MacLean, Charlie Angelakos, Sara Diamond, Mathieu Chantelois and Marcelo Gomez-Wiukstern, and many more.
The evening’s major sponsors were BMO, Slaight Family Foundation, and Cineplex Media. Additional support was provided by Delta Airlines and Spirit of York Distillery Co.
A City of Toronto agency, The 519 is committed to the health, happiness and full participation of the LGBTQ2S communities. With an innovative model of Service, Space and Leadership, The 519 strives to make a real difference in people’s lives, while working to promote inclusion, understanding and respect.
A signature annual event organized by The 519’s honorary patron Salah Bachir, the Gala brings together a diverse crowd of philanthropists, social activists and engaged citizens for an evening of entertainment and giving back. As a registered charity offering programs and services for underserved LGBTQ2S communities throughout the year, The 519 relies heavily on funds raised through such events and other philanthropy.
One of the most significant beneficiaries of the funds raised through the Gala is the Refugee Support Program that provides settlement services to LGBTQ+ refugees and claimants. From providing one-on-one settlement support to 1,507 refugee claimants and hosting 8,902 visits to group sessions and workshops last year, The 519 has been expanding this program each year to respond to the increasing need. The pressure on the program is expected to rise further as the persecution of queer and trans people continues around the world. These realities demand an urgent focus on expanding capacity dependent on funding and support.
Other programs that depend on the generosity of our donors include our trauma-informed counselling services and anti-violence initiatives, which focus on programs, services and advocacy initiatives in response to the experiences of LGBTQ2S community members facing discrimination and violence – socially, economically and systemically.