Saturday, May 28, 2011

AIDS Walk NYC | Impact Red

AIDS Walk NYC is an enormous event that rain or shine, brings together 45,000+ people who all walk for different reasons.  I walk because I constantly fight to destigmatize people and groups who are treated differently or disrespected by society.  I walk for someone special, and he knows who he is. This year, I walked with Impact Red, a team founded by Tyler Helms, who one year ago, disclosed his HIV+ status on his Facebook status.  And his world was turned upside-down.  Since that moment, 355 people have shared their status with him in confidence, admitting that they have not and will not tell anyone else and have not sought medical care for fear of mistreatment, disrespect or denial of service.  Impact Red’s byline is Conversation + Awareness + Change -- a perfect match with what I advocate for – opening dialogue about something that’s sometimes scary and misunderstood and therefore pushed aside in order to create awareness and educate people to affect positive change.  I am honored to be a part of the Impact. Watch Tyler’s story HERE.

Tyler Helms, Founder Impact Red
Impact Red was the AIDS Walk NYC’s featured team this year, who set a goal of $100,000 in fundraising, and surpassed it.  At about $64,000 in online fundraising, Thursday night after my day in Staten Island, I went straight to the Impact Red fundraiser at La Pomme where a huge crowd gathered to support Impact Red.  By the end of the night, they were nearing $100,000 and made a final push that took them over their goal.   It was really fun to spend this evening with Kandice Pelletier (who introduced me to Impact Red), Jackie Swerz, and Katie Berry, a Miss NJ contestant with an AIDS Awareness platform. 

Gossip Girl anyone?  Thanks for your support,  Matt

Sunday, someone even more special joined me for the AIDS Walk – my sister, Sarah!  In town for my birthday weekend, Sarah got to come to the AIDS Walk opening ceremonies with me, experience the crowd of thousands gathered in Central Park, witness the incredible celebrity and corporate support of this fundraiser, and hear a beautiful story of a woman who’s life has literally been saved by the work and support of GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis).  She found out she was HIV+ and spent the next 14 years of her life hiding in her apartment, continuing to abuse drugs and not expose herself to the outside world.  Two years ago, she found GMHC and was seeking treatment when she found out that each of those years she was hiding, her daughter was doing the AIDS Walk in her honor.  Last year, they got to do the walk together, and this year she was on stage alongside the cast of Modern Family, Laura Innes from The Event, Matt Bomer from White Collar, the cast of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Project Runway star Mondo and Audra McDonald.  What an evolution.  She starts college in the fall. 

Modern Family "stretching"
Erik Bottcher, Sarah & me, Matthew Berritt from Impact Red
Sarah and me with Wilson Cruz - she was so excited to meet someone famous :)
After hearing Tyler’s story, he is now another reason why I walk.  We all have different reasons, but this year alone, we came together to raise a total of $6,214,768 .  That’s over six million dollars. Now that’s an Impact.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Could Mr. Vorheesville survive to become Mr. New York?

Two years ago, Leigh-Taylor Smith Miss New York 2008, was invited to Mr. Vorheesville and didn’t exactly know what to expect.  It was a pageant for high school boys as a fundraiser supporting the high school volleyball team and SADD – Students Against Destructive Decisions.  Well, I’m glad she didn’t tell me too much about the event so that I could be as blown away as I was.  I had a blast, let me tell you.  12 guys competed in a Survivor-themed opening number, casual wear, talent, evening wear and on-stage questions.  The emcee was hysterical, constantly badgering Max to my right, Mr. Vorheesville 2009 (good choice Leigh-Taylor!), a clear crowd favorite.  

this photo just captures so much -- this kid was hilarious!
talents as unique as the unicycle
evening wear with their escorts - perhaps this is why JD won
Judging was hard!  I guess it set me up for this summer…  Your Mr. Vorheesville 2010 is JD, a soccer- and baseball-playing, sports-loving gentleman with a cool swagger and heartfelt preparation.  Hey, I announced that he is more than welcome to come on down to compete in Mr. New York on June 13th as our kick-off event of pageant week!  We’ll see if he comes!  The 7 hours I spent in the car with Linda Carbo were undoubtedly hilarious and awesome – the next girl is really in for a treat with this one J

me with all the Mr. Vorheesvilles - what great guys!
 Here's an update for you -- Max Schuster, Mr. Vorheesville 2009 (far right) is an official contestant in Mr. New York 2011!

Great photos thanks to Mitchell Joyce Photography    Flickr Album: Mr. Vorheesville

Staten Island Filming & Promos

As the 2011 Miss New York State pageant week approaches in our new home of Staten Island, we are drumming up lots of press and media thanks to the Staten Island Advance and our volunteers and board members in community relations there on the Island.  Thursday, following a wonderful lunch at the Staten Island Rotary Club, we had a really great opportunity for eight of the Miss New York contestants to join me, Kenny Mack (Executive Director) and Al Lambert, Staten Island celeb and musician, to record a 30-minute segment to be aired on cable networks in Staten Island, Manhattan and Brooklyn in the month leading up to the pageant.  I believe it’s so important to emphasize the number of women in this organization rather than just focusing on the one representative of Miss America or of the state titleholder.

  • ·      Miss NYC, Hannah Wright, spoke about the integration of her talent as a Juilliard dancer into her platform of empowering youth through dance as well as the fact that the Miss America Organization has awarded her over $10,000 in scholarships that afford her the ability to attend such a prestigious school.
  • ·      Miss Queens, Nardeen Billan, spoke of bringing her culture and heritage to the Miss NY stage through belly dancing and the excitement of pageantry back to her family. She gave us a little insight on her Mr. New York contestant – her boyfriend!
  • ·      Miss Kings County, Carmen Mendoza, talked about her personal platform “Destigmatizing Getting Tested” about HIV/AIDS awareness and knowing your status.  And did you know, Salsa dance, her talent for Miss NY, kind of originated in New York clubs?
  • ·      Miss Five Boroughs, Kate Perkins, reflected on the excitement and challenges presented as a first-time competitor and how the organization has already influence her life.  She even sang a little impromptu tune with Al.
  • ·      Miss Greater Gotham, Kasey Waters, admittedly discussed something that makes New York unique in the MAO, the fact that we draw contestants from many states, herself from North Carolina originally, because of the amount of young women who come to New York City especially to pursue dreams, careers and school.  Kasey represents New York in addition to North Carolina, two of the nine states represented in this year’s contestants.
  • ·      Miss Liberty, Kim Cantoni, one of the three Staten Island girls in the competition this year, shared some of the exciting things we’ll be doing during the Miss New York week
  • ·      Miss Richmond County, Amanda Alicea, another Staten Islander, is a former Miss New York’s Outstanding Teen (one of 3 in the competition this year) and shared how the Outstanding Teen program for girls age 13-17 really feeds into the Miss New York Scholarship Program for women 18-24.
  • ·      And lastly, Miss Staten Island, Maria DeSantis, an obvious Staten Islander, shared in the excitement of bringing the state pageant to it’s new home in Staten Island at the St. George Theatre and acknowledged the incredible support and family-oriented community involvement of the Island’s residents, businesses, charitable organizations and politicians.
If this media experience was any taste of what the girls will be bringing to interview and the state competition, we’re in for a good year!  I was really impressed by the way the girls stepped up with such enthusiasm on such short notice and represented the organization so well.  Special thanks to Al Lambert and Terry Terrangelo for setting this up, Joel the camera guy from CTV and the Nicotras at the Hilton for allowing us to tape at our host hotel.  I was able to take a tour of the entire Hilton – it’s huge! – and check out Lorenzo’s Cabaret where the Mr. New York Pageant will be held.   So excited!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Equality + Justice Day

Two years ago, I attended my first Equality + Justice Day with the Empire State Pride Agenda, and it marked my very first lobby day. Since, I have grown more involved, understanding political advocacy and my role in it as a constituent and now as a mini-celebrity. It was then that I first met Kate Hathaway and started to get to know some of the heavy hitters in the fight for marriage equality as well as the other bills and legislation necessary to fight for to achieve true equality. In 2009, I was a volunteer, attempting to give directions in the capitol building and the convention center. Since then, I have competed twice in Albany at the Egg Theatre and the University of Albany for Miss New York, spent much time exploring the capitol, meeting with senators and members of the Assembly and feel like I moreso know my way around. But more importantly, I know my way around a legislative meeting. 

I was fortunate to attend some of our most crucial meetings with board members of the Pride Agenda, including Kate and Jerry Hathaway, led by Pride Agenda’s Executive Director, Ross Levi. We met with Senate Minority Leader Sen. Sampson, joined by Sen. Tom Duane, sponsor of the marriage bill in the Senate, Chief Political Officer of the Republican Party, Sen. Tim Libous, and then members of the board were able to meet with the supportive Governor Cuomo. There was much talk about the math and votes required to pass marriage when presented on the floor after a failed vote last January, with a circular finger-pointing and need for strategic development and stealth “attack.” Also a focus was GENDA, the civil rights bills protecting transgender people and gender expression. On both issues, marriage more than GENDA, New York is pretty much divided along party lines. This just means that your voice is even more important. Senators NEED to hear you say you support the right to marriage for ALL people. They NEED to hear you say “Thank you, you are doing the right thing by voting YES.” They NEED to hear you say, “I am your constituent and I urge you to vote on the side of fairness, respect and equality for all people with a YES vote in these next few weeks.” 


At the rally in front of the statehouse, I was a featured speaker, opening up the rally. It was so neat to look out and see the amount of people there to lobby, from every walk of life, age, race, etc., under this unified movement for equality, and to see it from a different vantage point of the stage rather than the crowd this time around. You never know exactly how impactful you have been because of the walk-around/talk-around of politics, but I am confident that we are being heard, the pot is being stirred, and New York is closer to full equality than ever before. 

Performers with a Purpose


Miss Brooklyn impresses again!  Yet another blog about an event produced by Christina Moore, Miss Brooklyn 2011, to support her platform Performers with a Purpose: Bringing Sarcoma Awareness Center State.  Saturday, Performers with a Purpose was an evening that raised money for Sarcoma, the most rare form of cancer, by featuring hundreds of performers from the Bay Ridge/Brooklyn area.  Before she was even Miss Brooklyn, Christina was teaching dance in public schools to students, kindergarten through middle school.  The show opened with a huge production number of all of the kids Christina taught in their matching t-shirts, all part of the $4,500 of expenses that were donated to the event.  I was brought back to my competition and recital days watching tons of dance studios perform as well as special performances by Miss NYC, Hannah Wright, and her fellow Juilliard dancer, Miss Manhattan, Mallory Hagan, and Miss Five Boroughs, Kate Perkins (singing).  We met so many future Miss NY contestants and were able to promote the Miss New York Star Princess Program so much, even signing a few up, after they got our autographs, of course.  Congrats once again to Christina on a job well done, gaining respect and admiration from your community and your Miss NY family and competitors.

On a total side note, I wasn’t wearing heels that night and was not able to perform my dance for the cause; instead I had my right foot wrapped.  To explain, I have had a few biopsies and mole removals recently, with testing for melanoma. After four procedures, we have now [hopefully] gotten rid of all cancerous and pre-cancerous cells.  This is thanks to my dermatology sponsor, Dr. Virgil Hatcher of Chelsea Dermatology and his referral to Dr. Ariel Ostad, who kindly extended my sponsorship to cover his medical care.  So this sponsorship has been much more than relaxing facials and skincare, but it has helped me catch and hopefully now prevent my chances of developing skin cancer or melanoma.  Seemingly vain or annoyed, I don’t love the two-inch scar on my back or the inconvenience of a healing hole in my foot when I’m trying to walk around and stand (in heels) at appearances, but I’d take it over skin cancer any day.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Friendfactor NY Launch Party

I have blogged about Friendfactor before (READ HERE), but two weeks ago, Friendfactor made its official launch in NY with a big splash, recognized as a leader in the fight for marriage for all people in the state of New York. Now I don't wear my crown at all of my appearances, but they requested it, not just for pics, but the whole time; and it was really fun to see the people who were not only excited to meet Miss NY, but so grateful that I was there in support. Way more exciting than me though, were the celebrity hosts of the party including Chelsea Clinton, Kristen Bell, Mark Conseulos, and Andy Cohen. Steven Cohen was there representing the Governor and David Mixner was there for the ask. Most impressive, the founder of Friendfactor, Brian Elliot - genius ideas and someone who really took a leap of faith to start this organization that allows friends to support their friends in the fight for marriage. I had seen the Ff friendsetter pages (and I have one CLICK HERE) and the videos about how the website works, but it was so cool to see others' reactions, seeing it the first time.

Brian Elliot, Founder of Friendfactor
Chelsea Clinton
Kristen Bell
Mark said he and Kelly fought over who got to be Andy's date this night.
David Mixner
Ff Patty and Ron Zacchi, MENY
View some great press on the Ff Launch here:

Ff also released the new video promo project "Best. Wedding Gift. Ever." featuring Jesse Tyler Ferguson from Modern Family. Check it out! Hilarious.

Go to to win Jesse's signed gift and to give your gay* friends in New York the Best. Wedding Gift. Ever. -- the freedom to marry the person they love.

Since it's inception and a huge thanks to that NY launch party, Friendfactor has raised over $200,000. We are on our way to marriage for all people in the state of NY. Make sure your senator knows the right way to vote. Don't know who your senator is or how to call them? Just visit my friendsetter page HERE and you will be connected to your senator by simply typing in your zip code.

Make a difference in this marriage fight; the opportunity could not be any easer. No excuses. Play like a champion.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


haha wellll kinda.  By "jetsetting" I mean the Bolt Bus to Boston, then drive to Derry, New Hampshire, back to Boston and then fly to Orlando.  But it was all sorts of a fun trip :)

Saturday, I took the trip up to Boston for a weekend full of changed and spontaneous plans (<-- irony?).  First, I had an awesome lunch with Miss Massachusetts 2010 Loren Rabinowitz, who is awesome.   Loren is one of the girls I left Miss America wishing I had gotten to know better.  We just started hanging out towards the end when they really made an issue of the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry -- maybe that's because her intro was something to the idea of "From the state that roots for two teams: The Red Sox and anyone who's beating the Yankees, I'm Loren Rabinowitz, Miss Mass"  (idk ask Miss CO for a direct translation...)  I digress, again.  Anyway, if you know me at all, you know that I'm fascinated by religion and the conversations surrounding it as well as the role it plays in our society.  In our conversations about Loren being the only Jewish contestant in an organization that is unofficially, yet definitively and assumptively Christian, I was so intrigued.  This girl is impressive -- as are many of my Miss America sisters -- but I'll give you a few reasons why: Olympic trainee in figure skating, 2 national championships, Harvard grad, semi-finalist at Miss MA USA at 5'2" tall, accepted to 2 of the Top 3 medical schools in the country.  Do yourself a favor if you want to learn about the Miss America Organization and it's quality of competitors and read this article on Loren:  The Next Jewish Miss America?
Miss MA 2009 Amanda Kelly, me, Miss MA 2010 Loren Rabinowitz
From lunch, Miss Rhode Island, Debbie Saint-Vil, picked me up for our drive to the Miss New Hampshire Pageant to meet Miss Vermont, Caroline Bright, where Krystal Mucciolli would be giving up her title.  It was SUCH a great show with wonderful presentation and stage entertainment, and of course, a great group of women competing for the first spot in the Miss America Class of 2012.  So fun to be there with my Miss A sisters, but surreal to witness 'the beginning of the end.'  Watching a state pageant again was so interesting because it reminded me of the fact that I will never compete in one again...that's bizarre. I found some favorites early on in the competition, but was especially proud of the Top 3:  Not only is Regan Hartley the new Miss NH and first to go to Miss America 2012, but 1st RU Megan Lyman was at National Sweetheart last year (so kind, enthusiastic, and an incredible story), and the 2nd RU was the just-former Miss NH OT and overall talent winner with amazing classical guitar.  Regan's platform is about bullying based on harassment she experienced in high school - true stories influencing impactful platforms - that's what I like to see.  Congrats to NH on a wonderful show!

NY - NH - RI - VT 2010

Miss VT 2010 Caroline Bright, Miss NH 2011 Regan Hartley, Miss RI 2010 Debbie Saint-Vil, Miss NY 2010 me!

I came back to Boston to spend the rest of the weekend with my sweetheart sister, Miss Mass 2009, Amanda Kelly.  She rules too!  Geez everyone is wonderful!  It was so great to hang out in Boston, meet her boyfriend, and just have girl time.  I've said it before, but I just love when your relationship with people you've met in a pageant moves past that conversation into a regular friendship in real life.  I'm so thankful to have been blessed with many of those relationships.  Aside from just a few minutes of congratulations at Miss America, Amanda and I had not seen each other since the summer of 2008, yet we were able to pick up right where we left off and have a blast.

From Boston, I left for Orlando, FL where I was a special guest judge at the Miss Heart of Central Florida Pageant.  Nope, not what you is not a Miss America local.  It is a drag pageant.  My college friend Ron produced this pageant and really pulled out all the stops with a fantastic show.  They were so wonderful to their judges, some of whom performed and were just unbelievable!!  They really set the bar high for the contestants.  Especially after being at Ru Paul's Drag Race finale last week, I've learned so much about the drag community and the entertainment art of female impersonation.  It is quite a new world, unique in itself.  It was a fun and relaxing trip, complete with poolside reading and phone call catch ups -- just what I needed!!

Congrats to the winners!
Special Thanks to Bill and Ron for hosting me!