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    Donna’s Chronicles: Traditions are an integral part of human life, giving us a certain comforting structure, an annual calendar of sorts, and creating shared experiences with those we love.

    By Donna Sachet–

    Traditions are an integral part of human life, giving us a certain comforting structure, an annual calendar of sorts, and creating shared experiences with those we love. For many like ourselves, typical Thanksgiving dinners, church services, and other events often including family relatives hold little significance and sometimes painful memories. So, as adults, we create or embellish certain events to become our personal traditions, cherished times with special people. Frequent readers of our writings will immediately recognize Pride Weekend, including Pride Brunch, Imperial Coronation, Opening Night of the Opera, Folsom Street Fair, and others as valued traditions for us that set the structure of the calendar year.

    Among those traditions is Richmond/Ermet Aid Foundation’s (REAF) annual Help is on the Way benefit, bringing top quality entertainment to the Bay Area for a great cause for 25 years. At last Sunday’s Silver Anniversary event, those thoughts filled our mind. We remember that first Help is on the Way where we joined Anita Martini at the Palace of Fine Arts. We were dressed to the nines, including sparkling tiaras upon our heads, amazed by the talent on stage and the generous hearts represented by an organization that addressed the devastating AIDS pandemic head-on. That week in 1995, the following appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle column of the irrepressible Herb Caen: “Only in Ess Eff! At the sold-out ‘Help is on the Way’ AIDS benefit at the Palace of Fine Arts Mon., Matthew Martin heard a guy say campily to the three feet of hair seated in front of him, ‘Excuse me, Empress, would you mind removing your tiara???’” And so, a tradition began that continued last Sunday!

    Help is on the Way: Celebrating Broadway benefiting Raphael House and Meals on Wheels San Francisco was preceded by a huge silent auction on the main floor of the War Memorial Building, where guests bounced from art work and travel packages to Broadway memorabilia and beauty regimens. Upstairs in the Green Room, a gorgeous 25th Anniversary Gala centerpiece anchored the room as VIP ticket holders sipped champagne, posed for photos, and shared memories of favorite moments over the years. On the trusted arm of Richard Sablatura, my escort for many years at this and many other events, we caught up with Jeff & Shelley Hann Brunetti, Jeff Doney, Doug Waggener, Beth Townsend, Joel Goodrich, Sophie Azouaou, Lawrence Wong, Brent Marek, Beth Schnitzer, Gary Thackeray, Al Treuter, Larry Horowitz, and even Mayor Willie Brown with the glorious view of City Hall whose refurbishment he skillfully orchestrated looming in the background.  The anticipation was palpable as we joined the throngs crowding into Herbst Theatre and found ourselves seated in a prominent box with Nguyen Pham & Chris Lintz next to Mark Leno and Brett Andrews. On stage, Ken Henderson & Joe Seiler shared a little bit of the history of this 25-year old organization, founded by Barbara Richmond and Peggy Ermet in honor of their sons, both lost to AIDS. Board member Sophie Azouaou presented an award accepted by Hilary Newsom to Governor Gavin Newsom and his late father William Newsom for their years of support of REAF and their many contributions to the vitality of San Francisco. Upending the usual order of things, a live auction followed, directed by the wonderfully funny Del Shores, raising thousands of dollars in minutes. 

    Then, the cavalcade of performers commenced, accompanied by a stellar instrumental ensemble and directed for the last time by David Gallgan. You’ve seen the complete list of entertainers listed in this column and in advertising elsewhere, but particular stand-outs this year included Sam Harris, Paula West, Leanne Borghesi (perfectly bawdy and captivating), Eileen Blum on violin with dancers Yelena Vayn and Brandon Canela, Lisa Vroman and Franc D’Ambrosio, who both magically returned us to the glorious productions of Phantom of the Opera. The showstopper of the first act was Tyne Daly, masterfully reprising her Tony Award winning performance as Rose in Gypsy.

    The second half of the show featured incredible musical performances by Constantine Maroulis, Steve Knill, and Kimberley Locke, a hilarious Chorus Line spoof by Bruce Vilanch, and a comedic crowd-pleasing duet by Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless. The highly anticipated appearance of Carole Cook and her acceptance of the Lifetime Achievement Award left the audience in tears and laughter; what a life she has led and what a heart she has demonstrated! The show ended with a short video of the closing of the first Help is on the Way with Nancy Lamott, Val Diamond, and Lisa Vroman leading the song written by David Friedman that has become the symbol of hope for so many, and this year’s cast assembling on stage for the finale.

    Many of the stars joined the VIP guests for a reception back in the Green Room afterwards, where they were mobbed with adoration. We were particularly pleased to see members of the Imperial Court in attendance, including Empress Nicole Diamond visiting from Kentucky, Emperors Frankie Fernandez, Leandro Gonzales, and John Carrillo, and the Reigning Emperor of San Francisco Terrill Grimes Munro. We also greeted Geoff Callan, Cicero Braganca & Russ Fischella, Sister Dana Van Iquity, Brandon Miller, Bob Dockendorff, Simi Barjesteh, Rick Hamer, Jerome Goldstein & Tommy Taylor, Paul Moffett, Milton Mosk & Tom Foutch, Andrew Freeman, Tom Ray, and a happy ensemble from Twin Peaks. This memorable evening ended for us with a brief, but meaningful, exchange with the legendary Carole Cook, when we presented her with a framed photograph of the two of us from one of the early Help is on the Way galas, all of which we have attended and in 23 of which she has performed. We often speak of “pinch-me” moments, times when we can hardly believe where we are or with whom we are sharing a conversation; each of our encounters with her fits that category. Thank you, Carole Cook, for a lifetime of giving to those who need help, especially in the early and ongoing years of the AIDS pandemic. And thank you, REAF, for fighting the fight and bringing so many entertainers to San Francisco for our enjoyment.

    And there were other things happening in San Francisco! In an effort to support local businesses, especially those who give so much back to our LGBTQ Community, we joined Gary Virginia and Deana Dawn at Finn Town in the Castro last Wednesday for a festive happy hour with friends. Remember, one of your most powerful tools is your spending, where you spend and where you don’t. Whether you eat out once in a great while or practically every night of the week, consider spending those dollars with friends of the community!

    Virgin Hotel is rapidly claiming its spot on the LGBTQ list of destinations with a second daytime dance on their Rooftop Deck produced by Brian Kent and with DJ Wayne G. Last Saturday’s sunshine greeted hundreds of happy dancers, including Dan O’Leary & Jonathan Teel, Suzan Revah, Ira Olney & Troy Arnold, Juan Martinez, and Andy Lax. Watch for the next opportunity to enjoy the views of the City, great music, and wonderful company coming soon!

    The rest of last Saturday was spent at two Imperial Court gatherings. Empress Misty Blue invited all Empresses to perform at the monthly fundraiser at Beaux, this time benefiting the José Sarria Scholarship Fund. Attendance was spirited and the variety of performances was extraordinary. Over a thousand dollars was raised in a couple of hours. Then we were on to Lookout for the annual Empresses’ Tea, a tradition started in honor of Our Beloved Founder José Sarria and hosted by Empress Galilea where Empresses are requested to wear hats, the more outrageous, the better. All complied and the back room of Lookout was thus more crowded than ever! Nicole the Great, Queen Mother of the Americas, visiting from San Diego, shared some memories of earlier years and presented several awards, including the Commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez Outstanding Achievement in Journalism Award to this humble columnist in our twentieth year of writing a published article in the LGBTQ press. The award takes the form of a charming miniature typewriter and we couldn’t be more pleased. As we’ve written before, the San Francisco Bay Times has become an incredibly welcoming place to share our thoughts every two weeks in “Donna’s Chronicles” and we are proud to receive this award at this time.

    We hope that the previous issue of the Bay Times’ cover story about Richmond/Ermet Aid Foundation and our lengthy coverage of Help is on the Way here have convinced you to attend all future REAF events. You’ll see them listed in the calendar of this column and hope to see you there. And we hope that you will reflect on what tradition means to you. If sharing a Thanksgiving dinner with family and/or friends warms your heart and centers your life, do so with gusto! If attending a movie at the Castro Theatre with fellow film buffs fills you with pleasure, make it a frequent event! Whatever traditions you follow, embellish, or create, cherish the joy and connection they provide.

    Donna Sachet is a celebrated performer, fundraiser, activist and philanthropist who has dedicated over two decades to the LGBTQ Community in San Francisco. Contact her at


    Calendar a/la Sachet

    Every Sunday
    Sunday’s a Drag!
    The Starlight Room
    Sir Francis Drake Hotel
    10:30 am Brunch, 11:30 am Show
    $75 inclusive

    Thursday, August 22–24
    Drunk Drag Dizney
    Hilarious musical variety show
    Oasis, 298 Eleventh Street
    7 pm

    Saturday, August 24
    Cirque du Runway
    GAPA’s annual extravaganza
    Herbst Theatre, War Memorial Building
    7 pm

    Thursday August 29–31
    Star Trek Live
    Drag Kings parody the popular TV show
    Oasis, 298 Eleventh Street
    7 pm

    Saturday, August 31 & Sunday, September 1
    Veronika Klaus & Tammy Hall Trio
    Popular chanteuse returns to SF for 4 shows
    Martuni’s, 4 Valencia Street
    4 pm & 7 pm

    Friday, September 6
    Opening Night of the SF Opera
    Charles Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet
    Glamorous clothes, glorious music and spectacle
    War Memorial Opera House
    8 pm
    $175 & up

    Monday, September 9
    REAF’s One Night Only: Protest, Revel with Some Rebels
    Benefit Cabaret with cast members from Hamilton
    Marines’ Memorial Theatre
    7:30 pm