Neighbours bartender's 'Leo Party' boosts campaign to Approve R-74
by James Whitely -
SGN Staff Writer
On Sunday, August 12, Joe Torres, longtime bartender at Neighbours Nightclub, threw his annual Leo Party. For nine years now, Torres has hosted the event at Neighbours to not just celebrate his birthday, but also to raise money for nonprofits that serve the LGBT community.
'I'm too old to have my own party,' Torres told SGN. 'When I was younger, I always wanted to do something for the community & this is my way of giving back.'
This year, Torres chose to raise funds for the Youth Suicide Prevention Program (YSPP), a prevention/education organization dedicated to reducing suicidal behaviors among the youth of Washington state; and Washington United for Marriage, the coalition working to Approve Referendum 74 and defend marriage equality. In previous years, Torres has fundraised for Lifelong AIDS Alliance, Rise n' Shine, The Human Rights Campaign, and many other groups.
'SAINTED' BY THE SISTERS
Taking note of Torres's history of altruism, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Abbey of St. Joan, bestowed on him their most esteemed title. Torres joined the ranks of Steve Tracy, general manager of Neighbours Nightclub, and George Bakan, editor of SGN, in Sainthood.
Being 'Sainted' by the Sisters is no small affair. It's the highest honor they grant to those outside of their organization, and the title is reserved only for people who do tremendous amounts of work for the LGBT community.
'He deserves to be recognized like fellow Saints - Harvey Milk, Senator Ed Murray, and George Bakan. Joe is someone who will reach out his hand in a heartbeat to help someone without question or hesitation,' said Aleksa Manila, who, along with Roxy Doll, has helped Torres organize the event for many years.
'His sense of humor balances his compassion for the Gay community, especially Transgender individuals,' Manila continued. 'He makes sure we all go home safe at the end of the night. Naming him 'Santa Maria Josefa Manila - Protector of the Poon' symbolizes his laughter and passion for our LGBTQ communities and the issues we fight for, like youth suicide prevention and marriage equality.'
'Joe, as many know as the bartender at Neighbours Nightclub for over a decade now, is beyond just a representative of customer service. Joe, as an openly Gay man of color, has been a philanthropist, fundraiser, advocate, and activist in the community. He has supported and organized benefits to aid organizations such as Youth Suicide Prevention Program - OUTLoud, Seattle Counseling Service, and recently, Washington United for Marriage, as manifested in his annual Leo Party, where he shares the blessings of his birthday for the past nine years,' said Sister Yuriko Lomein, reading from Torres's Sainthood citation.
A SAFE HAVEN
'Joe's charisma and kindness is selfless and sincere. He has on many occasions protected many LGBTQ individuals, especially Transgender individuals. His friends in and out of the nightlife scene, and in his personal life, can attest to his generosity and open-door policy of safety and refuge,' continued Sister Yuriko. 'Joe is an excellent role model and an inspiration to many young individuals who may not have a strong leader to look up to.'
'It's such a blessing to know Joe Torres for over a decade,' said Manila. 'He's more than a bartender at Neighbours Nightclub - he's an advocate, fundraiser, and ally. Most of all, a gracious friend to many community members.'
The Leo Party featured a huge lineup of performers such as Gaysha Starr, Isaac Scott, Atasha Manila, Chase Silva, Julian Gaspay, and many others.
'We are amazed each year at the entertainment lineup. These performers volunteer their time and talent for a great cause because they believe and support Joe's efforts in community building,' Manila told SGN. 'For example, Layla Manila came all the way from Florida to celebrate Joe's birthday. The event raised $3,000 for Youth Suicide Prevention and [Approve] Referendum 74 - a testament to Joe's altruism.'
Torres said that choosing to fundraise for the Approve Referendum 74 campaign wasn't so much for money as it was for visibility. He has friends from all walks of life who come to celebrate his birthday, he said, and he wanted to make sure they were aware of the campaign to Approve Referendum 74 and preserve Washington's new marriage equality law.
'It's such a pivotal issue in our community,' said Torres of Approve Referendum 74.
Torres also chose to fundraise for YSPP last year.
'As a child, being Latin and Gay, I was bullied, threatened, called names. And yes, I stood up. I became a bit of a counselor for a lot of friends who were, let's say, different, and I would always stand up for my friends,' Torres told SGN.
'I am glad that I've been given the opportunity to do what I do,' added Torres.
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