Prizm News / November 7, 2017 / By Austin Mariasy
A holiday party started by a group of gay friends in 1977 is now Ohio’s oldest LGBTQ community fundraiser. Next month, Toledo’s Holiday With Heart Gayla will deck the halls and haul out the checkbooks for the 40th year.
By Austin Mariasy
Toledo’s Holiday With Heart Gayla is celebrating 40 years of fun and friends-turned-family with its annual holiday party on Sunday, Dec. 3.
The Gayla is the longest-running LGBTQ fundraiser in Ohio. It distributes thousands of dollars annually to Northwest Ohio community groups that have included the Toledo Pride Foundation, Rainbow Area Youth, Toledo Mpowerment, Why Marriage Matters Ohio and the University of Toledo Medical Center’s Ryan White Program for HIV/AIDS care.
And it all started with 16 gay men who wanted to get together and have a party, says Rick Cornett, a Holiday With Heart board member who attended his first Gayla in 1991.
“Part of living, and of who someone is, is giving back to people.”
– Ed Hoffman,
Holiday With Heart Gayla co-founder
That first party in 1977 was at the Columbian House in Waterville, a good 25 minutes from the heart of Toledo and far away from judgmental eyes of the era. Most of the original 16 lived and worked in either Toledo or Findlay, and they thought Waterville was far enough away from both cities that friends and coworkers wouldn’t see them at a gay event.
Now, 40 years later, an estimated 300 LGBTQ people and allies will gather in the high-profile Toledo Club for what has become one of the most extravagant events of the season.
Ed Hoffman was one of the founders. He said he and his late husband, Dick Flock, always thought it was important to help where they could.
“Part of living, and of who someone is, is giving back to people,” he says.
Hoffman and fellow founder Dave Hindall have been to every single Gayla since the first. The original event wasn’t designed to be a fundraiser, Hoffman says, but Holiday With Heart kept growing because there’s a “certain sense of comfort in being around people like yourself.”
The event eventually grew so large that in 1998 organizers started making donations to LGBTQ groups in Northwest Ohio.
The first official donation went to David’s House Compassion, which later became part of what is now Equitas Health. Last year, the fundraiser benefited the Toledo School of the Arts LGBT Inclusion Program and the Promise House project with $23,000.
This year’s beneficiaries are Young Gay Empowered, University of Toledo Multicultural Success and the Holiday With Heart Fund at the Toledo Community Foundation. A greater number of corporate sponsors means a bigger donation is likely this year, Cornett says.
Gayla organizers set up a fund in 2010 at the Toledo Community Foundation that gets a portion of proceeds from each year’s event. Cornett says that when the fund reaches $100,000, donations will go out more often than once per year.
Austin Mariasy is a freelance writer.