Thank You Henry van Ameringen

September 23, 2010

There's an old Chinese proverb that for some reason always stuck with me: "When eating bamboo shoots, remember the man who planted them." My grandmother, neither Chinese nor proverbial, had her own version: "You've got 86,400 perfectly good seconds today. Take one to say thank you." I'm sharing these with you because a recent series of seemingly banal events in my life, when experienced together, have made me afraid. I'm afraid that we as gay men are relying too much on anger, and not enough on gratitude, to fuel our cause.

About a week ago, I was walking home down 9th Avenue here in NYC, and I saw a bus-stop-poster advertising "My Generation" (which I assume is a TV show). The tag-line read, "I'm tired of paying for your mistakes, Dad." A few days later, my firm (in the interest of disclosure, I own a boutique advertising/PR shop) took a pro bono account for In The Life Media's 13th Season Premiere honoring one of New York's most prolific gay philanthropists, Henry van Ameringen. The fact that the poster was for a TV show and leveraging anger, and "IN THE LIFE" is the longest running (and original) LGBT documentary series leveraging gratitude, made them click.

As I began exploring the account, I discovered that van Ameringen had funded so many New York-based LGBT charities for many, many years. I couldn't think of a single person I knew whose life hadn't somehow been improved by him -- mine included. I was dumbfounded, and ashamed. Ashamed that I had never even heard of van Ameringen before, and ashamed that the discovery made me realize how too many of us are running on too much angry and not enough grateful.

I have worked a lot in the past for pro-gay non-profits, and never met any of the principal donors. I have produced many pro-gay ads, and all of them carried a core message that the gay community is not treated equally enough (which is true, don't get me wrong), but not one took the time to draw attention to the men before us, who guided us to the equalities we do enjoy today. Suddenly, I felt grateful -- grateful that I had the opportunity to work the pro bono account, which is my way of saying, "thanks." In fact, I felt so strongly about this epiphany, that I built the message for the account around gratitude, and already it's performed far better than any message of lack.

There is room for anger, and we have a right to be. Memphis sells out on Broadway, and few in the audience stop to recognize that gay men are oppressed by the very same stigma here in New York, not Tennessee, and not in the 60's, but today. But let's also remember that gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic. Let's let gratitude -- at least occasionally -- fuel the flame within our cause. Let's celebrate the men who have taken us this far, and try not to forget another Chinese proverb, of which I know my grandmother would approve: "There is no duty more urgent than that of returning thanks."

Thank a charity that has improved your life.

Learn more about In The Life Media and Henry van Ameringen.



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Comments

AWESOME post man!! Thanks so much for sharing and lightin a little necessary fire under us~!!

I do thank charities that help change, not only MY life, but the lives of all LGBT people. I do that by donating money to their causes. I'm not a philanthropist with lots of money; I'm just a retired GI and a Social Security pensionee. There are months when I wonder how I'm going to meet my bills and often think of cutting off those monthly debits from my checking account to the three charities I help. Somehow, though, I manage without doing that, and I'm glad. I hope someday I will win a large lottery so that I can really help the organizations that help us LGBT folk in the manner in which they deserve. It's MY way of saying thanks.

Duke--thaks for this post. Over the past two years I have become increasingly aware of the power of gratitude. When I am frustrated, angry or down, I take a minute to stop and start listing (and thanking the Universe) for all the things for which I am grateful. It is amazing the power this has! As for those who have gone before us, we do owe them a huge debt. Thanks again for your inspiration.

Duke: thank you for sharing such a simple, but powerful truth.

Henry van Ameringen is truly an amazing and generous man. A real hero of our community, and one whom never really asks for anything or any recognition in return. It is great that he is being honored.

Thank you for this, Duke. You are correct that when we acknowledge our gratitude, we are all better off.

I like the statement to the effect that when we think of what we have, we will always have enough, but when we think of what we want, we will never have enough.

Could your never having hear of Mr. van Ameringen been because he prefers to work quietly and not put himself in the limelight? There are many philanthropists who work that way, so it would not be surprising that people have not heard of them.

There was a statement in your essay that I did not understand: "Memphis sells out on Broadway." I don't understand what that means.

Thanks, Duke, for the reminder that when we show our appreciation to others, it helps to make the world a better place.

Thanks for the note! I've learned also that gratitude sometimes wins the hearts that anger never reaches.

what an amazing Article. Thank you !

I was in a trough this morning and surfing all my websites for that hoped for individual to raise my spirits and gladden my heart. By reading your post you made me realise that my mood was a selfish act and that I have much to be grateful for. I live in one of the most beautiful regions of France, have lovely people around me and continue to argue for LGBT rights. I just needed to be reminded to say thanks to myself for bringing me this far and to all the people who made me the way I am and pushed, shoved, cajoled and led me.

So, I say thank you to you all, and I do so from and to me.

xx

Excellent article. It can be translated into so many other facets of life, besides being gay. So let me take this brief second and say... THANK YOU.

feeling pretty down in the dumps and after reading this i feel ashamed, much of youth is dwelling in negativity, nothing is ever good enougha, worthy enough but sometimes i too have to stop and look, grateful for amazing friends who have been with me through some truly hellish times ( a really dear friend ran to my aid when i was attacked on the street) i have a place to live, not fancy but its warm and dry, a job when so many dont and though i may not have love in my life i still have alot to smile for. i dont normally gush but thank you for reminding us that we should stop being angry and put a smile on. -x-

"You've got 86,400 perfectly good seconds today. Take one to say thank you."

Well, Duke, thank you for this intervention.

As a London based person, I cant vote in the contest, but if I could, I would vote for Stonewall, a UK based charity that has, with energy and committment, lead the pace of change here.

Specifically, I am so grateful to them for driving the changes that allowed my overseas partner (and many, many others) move to UK to live and work, legally, with their British other half's.

Henry van Ameringen is a great example of people who use whatever resources they have to facilitate compassion and positive changes. Long may his example inspire others.

Steve.

It's very interesting that, in the comments written so far, no one says they will contribute. Talk is cheap. Contributing is a form of thanks. Just think of the wasted money on booze and cigarettes and other pleasures, and how much a small percentage of that money could help an organization, any organization, that helps US deal with our everyday lives, whether it be discrimination, passing laws that give us equality, or assistance to the downtrodden and/or ill.

johnfnfl has a point. Contribute after careful examination of the organization's structure to make sure that donations are not going for the cigarette and liquor habits of management, similar to the pentagons 600 dollar toilet seats for very special bottoms :)

I didn't get the 'Memphis sells out on Broadway' comment, either...

"Memphis" is a Broadway show dealing with rock & roll; however, I don't know the connection to the original blog.

Hey Guys...

Thank you for all the comments. Don't forget, you CAN give if you win the contest. Here's the link:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Thank-You-Henry/145832015452750?v=app_95936962634

Cheers,
Duke

P.S.
The principal conflict in MEMPHIS is that a white man and black woman cannot get married, or even let on they know each other in public. In 2010 in Manhattan, we can't either... well, at least the marriage part.

very powerful article. being a hospice nurse i realize every day that we are able to get up and do our daily routine is a gift. i thank the supreme being every day for all the good things i have in my life. these two words thank you can make a big difference in someones life. i say thank you to daddyhunt for all the the wonderful men that i have met. boo1 jerry

THANK YOU DUKE FOR THE ARTICHLE , GOTTA SAY THANK YOU TO VAN AMERINGEN TO INPIRES YOU TO DO THIS ARTHICLE TOOO ...
often we always forget things that we should be gratefull for till we lost everything we had in our life ... and with this post i think i shall never forget with what i have and alwyas say thank you who make a big contributions and changes in life!!! so A BIG AND WARMTH THANK YOU for the things that you HAVE DONE... AGAIN DUKE, FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART THANK YOU AGAIN.

Thank-you for this post.

I Have asked for a Christmas gift for the past few years for a donation to "Loving Spoonful" a food bank/resorce for HIV/AIDS persons. We can all be heros in our own small way

Be sure to check the management practices of any charity group first. Donating at the office to Institutional solutions is an out-of-touch last resort but the personal human touch (adopting, parental supervision, volunteering) would still be the first line of defense.