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Harvey Brownstone honored at Stonewall; Canadian TV host, activist kicks off Pride Month

BY JOHN PIETARO | Just who is Harvey Brownstone? For the many residing south of Niagara’s Rainbow Bridge, the celebrity host with an audience of 5 million-plus may not be immediately recognizable, but his legend and impact are unmistakable. This year’s Pride festivities in New York were given a special launch with Brownstone’s appearance at the Stonewall Inn on June 5.

The birthplace of L.G.B.T.Q. liberation anchored Harvey’s New York City debut with in-depth discussion about his life, career, and “Interviews” program, alongside guest speakers and live music. The event was produced and hosted by public relations maven Laurie Towers.

Harvey Brownstone and Laurie Towers. (Photo by John Pietaro)

Brownstone, a former Canadian judge — that nation’s first openly gay jurist — made history by marrying countless same-sex couples from the provinces, as well as throughout this nation. The New York contingent was so numerous that Brownstone’s dedication earned a 2008 proclamation by New York State Senator Tom Duane. Brownstone’s marriage officiating occurred continually — and free of charge — around an already-full Family Court docket.

At the Stonewall, Brownstone offered, “It was always so moving. There were so many desperate to finally hold that legal commitment, I couldn’t turn anyone away.”

Harvey Brownstone, right, with Denise Lee, left, and Gary Lynn Floyd. (Photo by John Pietaro)
Singer Denise Lee was accompanied by Gary Lynn Floyd on piano. (Photo by John Pietaro)
Gary Lynn Floyd. (Photo by John Pietaro)

Among those he couldn’t turn away were New Yorkers Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer, married by Brownstone after 42 years as a couple. Their union ultimately came to trigger the Supreme Court litigation, which ushered in legal marriage for L.G.B.T.Q. people across the U.S. Their story was ardently told in the documentary “Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement,” which includes footage of the pair’s wedding ceremony at Toronto Pearson Airport.

Among the guest speakers at Stonewall was Judith Kasen-Windsor, who became the second wife of Edie Windsor following Thea Spyer’s lengthy battle with multiple sclerosis.

Grammy-nominated songwriter Harriet Schock (“Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady,” a massive hit for Helen Reddy), moved by Brownstone’s “coming out” story, composed “I Am Yours,” now released by vocalist and pianist Gary Lynn Floyd on his album “Present Schock: The Songs of Harriet Schock.” Floyd flew in from Houston to perform a riveting set, including this song and Schock’s reworking of “Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady,” adding, “This time it’s from the male perspective and it’s actually my own coming out story.” Floyd also performed a rousing original with vocalist Denise Lee, another out-of-towner in for the occasion.

“And I also came to see my baby performing in ‘Shucked’ on Broadway!” Lee excitedly added.

The duo lit the house with Floyd’s classic, warm baritone and Lee’s Mavis Staples-inspired vocal flight. Jim Keaton, president of the Helen Reddy Fan Club, spoke powerfully about the songs of Schock and the relationship he developed with Reddy and her team.

Maria Gentile was among the performers. (Photo by John Pietaro)

Award-winning mixologist Maria Gentile who crafted special libations for the evening, including the Marvy Harvey, Love Wins, Justice for All and The Brownstone (with Canadian Club whiskey, natch), emerged from behind the bar to lend her vocal talents to the goings-on.

“If I Was a Boy,” a deeply touching piece recalling Gentile’s own childhood struggles within the L.G.B.T.Q. reality, was emotionally performed by this veteran cabaret singer with emotive piano accompaniment by Floyd.

David Rothenberg. (Photo by John Pietaro)

Other highlights of the evening included an address by longtime activist and WBAI radio host David Rothenberg.

“I may be older than water,” he joked, nonplussed, “but I can still get up onstage.”

Rothenberg, who spent decades as a Broadway press agent, is also the founder of the Fortune Society, which supports formerly incarcerated persons’ successful reentry to society. His activism for civil rights, civil liberties and peace expanded in 1973, he said, “when I was asked to be on ‘The David Susskind Show’ to discuss gay and lesbian issues. That was my coming-out story. I lived across the street from this place in 1969 during the uprising, but was frozen, deep in the closet then. I haven’t looked back since.”

Others in the crowd included television, film and stage actor Louise Sorel (whom Rothenberg recalled from his earliest press rep days) and breakthrough TV screenwriter Susan Silver, among many more.

Wendy Stuart, actor, activist and host of the show “If These Walls Could Talk,” stressed just how fragile the current political situation is, with ultra-conservative legislation — advocated for by the most extreme right-wing voices — stripping away human rights.

During his years on the bench, Brownstone also became a best-selling author with the
groundbreaking “Tug of War: A Judge’s Verdict on Separation, Custody Battles and the Bitter Realities of Family Court,” leading to numerous media appearances. But his lifelong desire to host celebrated actors and writers came to be only following his retirement from the judiciary.

Since its debut in 2021, “Harvey Brownstone Interviews” has counted Louis Gossett Jr., Linda Evans, Sir Tim Rice, Robert Wagner, Louise Sorel, Ruta Lee, even the elusive 93-year-old Mamie van Doren, among his notable guests. The show is broadcast globally on Brownstone’s own YouTube channel, as well as XPTV1 throughout the U.K., among other sources.

Honoring his TV show, the Breakfast at Dominique’s fair-trade, environmentally friendly coffee company premiered its Talk Show Blend, suited to Brownstone’s specific taste.

As the Stonewall celebration came to a close and the overfilled glasses were drained down to their rocks, so to speak, the house system played “O Canada,” with host Towers proclaiming, “This is New York’s ‘thank you’ to you, Harvey. For all you’ve done!”

Hear, hear!

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