by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Few LGBTQ organizations can claim what Seattle Counseling Service (SCS) can: They are as relevant and needed today as they were the day they first opened their doors. For SCS, the door opened 45 years ago when the world was a very, very different place for the community and our allies. There are people who, both then and now, will tell you that they owe their life to SCS. During the parade, when their contingent makes its way down the parade route, people scream out 'Thank You SCS!' or 'We Love You SCS!' It's not magic, however, that has created this fandom and respect. It's dedication and hard work. It is the fact that through it all - no matter what - the leadership and staff of counselors, administrators and more, actually give a damn and push themselves to realize the organization's mission on a daily basis. It's sponsoring other community organizations and supporting the efforts of like-minded allies who believe like they do, that everyone deserves a fighting chance. No matter if you are depressed, trying to kick cigarettes for the first or last time, dealing with relationship issues or need help with an addiction that is ruling your life, they will do what they can to aid you through your journey of recovery, understanding, and counseling. Make no mistake - heroes occupy the offices at 1216 Pine Street.
On Sunday, October 26, Seattle Counseling Service held its 45th Anniversary Gala at the Westin Seattle, celebrating 45 years of dedicated service to the LGBTQ community. The Gala theme, 'Looking Back, Moving Forward,' was appropriate as officials asked the public to join SCS to explore the amazing change and growth they have experienced both as an organization and as a community since the year of its birth - 1969.
Local Drag entertainer and activist, Aleksa Manila hosted the show. Aleksa Manila is rightfully viewed as one of Seattle's most philanthropic queens. Her message of inclusion and understanding is relevant and she always does a great job. Sunday was no exception. Aleksa opened the show with a few provocative jokes just to remind people to relax, laugh a little and smile while raising money for charity. It worked as it always does for her; she knows her craft.
Seattle Counseling Service is near and dear to Aleksa Manila's heart and soul. She has produced and hosted SCS' annual benefit 'ICON: A Celebration of Drag, Art & Life' for a decade. But more importantly, Aleksa, when not in face, works as SCS' Addiction Services Program Supervisor and Project NEON Program Coordinator.
'For the past 11 years, 'he' (Aleks Martin) has tirelessly dedicated his profession to ensure that SCS' mission is upheld and celebrated by everyone,' said SCS officials.
The VIP reception entertainment was provided by Brian Buck and Ray Brooks. Brian Buck is a familiar face to SCS Gala and ICON attendees by now, having served as both a pianist and photographer for past events. While he is best known as a photographer, he's played keyboards for many years in jazz bands and as a solo pianist in concerts, charity events and silent movies around Seattle. Ray Brooks is a multi-instrumentalist, fluent in both brass and piano in a wide range of genres from pop to jazz to classical. The 45th SCS Gala brought the two together for the first time since performing many years ago in Tallahassee, Florida where they first met.
The gala, although not as performance heavy as ICON, booked some of the best entertainers in town. Miss Indigo Blue, Seattle's burlesque stalwart, is sexy, funny, irreverent and ingeniously clever. Miss Indigo Blue flirts with the edgy, exotic and erotic fringes of burlesque. She did not disappoint at the 45th SCS Gala - performing as a naughty nurse.
Arnaldo! Drag Chanteuse performed more than one cabaret number at the gala; however, it was her second song, 'I've Got Your Picture, She's Got You' that was easily the best performance of the evening. Appearing onstage in a blue gown fit for a gala, the audience had no idea what was about to happen. After pulling out of her dress, a photo of Arleen Nelson, SCS intern supervisor, she began to pull out everything from a golf club, a crutch, records, a turkey baster and more. The performance earned Arnaldo! a standing ovation.
SCS has been supporting community members since the beginning of the modern LGBTQ movement and continues to evolve to meet the community's ever-changing needs. Here's a look back at the rich history that attendees at the gala shared with the board members, staff and volunteers at Sunday's gala:
Founded in 1969, Seattle Counseling Service is the oldest LGBTQ-focused community mental health agency in the world. Starting as part of the Dorian Society in Seattle in 1969, SCS later expanded to become an independent organization. SCS began in a rented house with one telephone and several volunteers who hung out, ready to answer the phone, talk with people who dropped by, and offer counsel and support.
SCS has been licensed as a mental health center since 1974. Among the programs pioneered by SCS, the Domestic Violence Program (started in 1982) was one of the first in the nation to offer help to those in same-sex relationships.
In 1985, SCS received status as a United Way agency. SCS was the first Gay-specific agency to receive that status in King County.
SCS began offering services for people with HIV/AIDS concerns in 1985 by providing HIV Test counseling at the Seattle Gay Clinic. Long-term AIDS therapy and an AIDS drop-in group began in 1986, and the AIDS Crisis Intervention Program was initiated in 1989. In 1996, SCS placed a therapist on site at Bailey-Boushay House.
In 1990, SCS became a sponsoring agency of Lambert House, an LGBT youth drop-in center.
In 2003, SCS and King County Public Health created a collaboration to house Project NEON, a harm reduction program for users of crystal methamphetamine. 2003 also brought the advent of SCS Chemical Dependency Services, assuming the role previously filled by Stonewall Recovery Services in King County.
In addition to its role providing direct services to sexual minority community members, SCS plays a significant regional role as a psychology and social work professional training site. SCS serves as the practice training site for an average of four universities each year. Since 1992, SCS has also provided training to mental health providers statewide to increase their capacity to appropriately serve sexual minorities in their home communities.
Collaboration is important to the staff and board of SCS. SCS works with other King County Mental Health Providers to advocate on behalf of clients in the mental health system. SCS belongs to the Cross Cultural Alliance, the Washington Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs.
Over the years SCS has garnered numerous awards for services provided to the community and they continue to add new programs and services to meet the changing needs of the LGBTQ communities.
'Tonight I'm honored to be with all of you as we take a moment to look back to the early days of our LGBTQ history in Seattle and remember where this organization came from,' SCS Executive Director Ann McGettigan told attendees. 'I am grateful to Dr. Robert Deisher for his early vision about the work we need to do and to his early colleagues who joined with him to start SCS in 1969. I'm also grateful to all of the community members who had the courage to reach out for help and support and found a safe haven in SCS.'
Ann McGettigan has over 35 years of professional experience working with social change non-profits in various positions from crisis line worker to executive director. She has coordinated rape prevention programs, worked in battered women's shelters, provided community education on sexual and domestic violence and administered programs that support reproductive rights for women and girls.
Ann has been the Executive Director at Seattle Counseling Service since 1998. She chose to work with SCS because she wants to work directly with and for the LGBTQ community with which she identifies. With the essential support of a dedicated and hard-working staff and Board of Directors Ann has led the organization onto a strong financial footing and solid program expansion.
'I've often described SCS as 'The Little Ship That Could' because we have managed to survive some big waves of change over the past 45 years,' she continued. 'Through all of that change we have continued to stay dedicated to the behavioral health and social well-being of our community.'
This year marks the first annual Dr. Deisher Founder's Award. Dr. Robert Deisher was dedicated to helping troubled teens. He sought support for social services for Gay youth at a time when those actions were unheard of. He opened Seattle Counseling Service - the first counseling center for sexual minorities in the world - and began the Pioneer Square Youth Clinic among other incredible accomplishments.
'Dr. Deisher affected the lives of so many throughout his life and his legacy is one we are proud to continue,' said McGettigan.
On Sunday, Seattle Counseling Service gave the first-ever Dr. Deisher Founder's Award to Arleen Nelson, MSW, LICSW.
'Arleen came to SCS in 1979 to introduce herself as a possible referral source for parents and family members of Gay and Lesbian individuals,' said SCS officials. 'She walked out with the task of developing and leading a four-day training for the agency's telephone counselors. Little did she know that she was embarking on a lifetime career supporting the LGBTQ community.'
'For the past 35 years Arleen has brought her wisdom, compassion and fierce advocacy to her work at SCS,' said McGettigan. 'Arleen is a founding member of both the local and national chapters of PFLAG. In the early years of the AIDS crisis she helped to develop and supervise an HIV Program. She then spent a large portion of the '90s as a couples and family counselor at SCS while also overseeing the long-term AIDS therapy program. Since retiring in 2000, Arleen has continued supervising SCS interns and providing invaluable consultation.'
Nelson accepted the award and was received by the audience with a standing ovation. It was a touching moment for everyone that was in the room; it isn't often that people get honored in such a way.
Each year, SCS has asked someone they have helped to give a client testimonial. This year's client testimonial was presented by Melissa Batson and really made for a well-rounded evening. Batson's story was provocative and interesting. Batson is a proud male to female Transsexual. She graduated from The Citadel with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and from the University of Oklahoma in 1988 from their school of law. She practiced in Oklahoma and Washington, specializing in civil rights and the rights of minorities in the workplace. She left active practice in 2001 and focused on her own development as a Transgender person.
While in the Army, Batson described how she remained closeted and excelled at the military to deflect any attention off of the fact of who she really was inside. She served as an officer and commanded tanks. Eventually her secret got out and she was discharged from the U.S. Army without any benefits or anything. The experience changed her forever. She would eventually go on to manage a multi-million dollar company and is currently employed by Costco at their campus headquarters in Issaquah.
Melissa is currently a trustee for The Emerald City Club and edits the Emerald City Newsletter.
Another wonderful part of the 45th SCS Gala were the 45th anniversary video interviews of George Bakan, Aleks Martin, Marsha Botzer, Ann McGettigan, David Breland, Kris Butler, Donnie Goodman, Davin Majkut, Arleen Nelson and Robert Wood. The interviews, recorded by Yoyostring Collective, a full service Seattle video production company that includes camera, editing, motion graphics, and live event video production serving Seattle, Portland and San Diego, were played in short 1 to 3 minute segments with the first one being 'Looking Back,' then 'Moving Forward' and finally 'Telling our Stories.'
Other production or audio/visual support for the gala was provided by Dru Dinero at Visual Affairs, a local video production company, Seattle Gay News, Seattle's LGBT News & Entertainment weekly since 1974, Nate Gowdy Photography, and John Beursken Photography. Other support or sponsorship came from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Westin Hotel & Resorts.
In addition, Vulcan: A Paul G. Allen Company served as the event's Visionary Sponsor; Goodwill: Because Jobs Change Lives served as the Advocate Sponsor for the 45th SCS Gala. Corporate Listeners included Group Health, Amerigroup Real Solutions, Seattle Children's Hospital/Research/Foundation, and First Security Bank.
The gala came to an end with a champagne toast to the health and vitality of the organization for years to come and a drag performance of some of Katy Perry's most known hits, by drag superstar Isaac Scott. For the last song, Isaac invited all of the staff, board members and interns up onto the stage to dance with her. It was a wonderful ending to this 'Little Ship That Could.'
As Seattle Gay News goes to print, SCS has not released the final amount that was earned by the agency on October 26. We will update you as soon as we know the total. For more information visit www.SeattleCounselingService.org.
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