Christoph Babka, a handsome blonde with a keen sense of duty, was burned out working in Hollywood, so he decided to shake things up.
“We try to get the younger generation involved,” he said, holding a clipboard inside the Armani Exchange store on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. “There's a lot of apathy with that group of people. Sometimes they get lost in the scene. Sometimes they're not even a part of the scene. And sometimes they're not even a part of the community. So we're trying to build a community.”
Babka was speaking of the gay and lesbian community, and now he stood with two hundred or so other young men on a Thursday night during Gay Pride Week and looked to sign up new members for the Young Professionals Council, an outreach program of the LA Gay & Lesbian Center.
“The Center realized most of the people giving money were over the age of 40,” said Babka, who's chairman of the Young Professionals and a producer at a new media strategies firm. “So they wanted to reach out to younger people, but they really had no idea how to do that. That's where we come in.”
Started two years ago, the Young Professionals raise money for the Center and its programs and sometimes act like a kind of action network.
“If we need people to go to a rally,” Babka said, “we make the calls and we get them there.”
They also hold parties, which the Young Professionals were currently hosting at Armani Exchange, with co-sponsor Out magazine. The booze was free, a DJ played very loud grooves, and five male models wearing only underwear stood in a display window, with their buttocks facing the Strip and one black letter painted on each of their hairless chests. Standing side by side, the letters spelled out the word “PRIDE.”
Jennifer, a spunky brunette who moved to LA eight weeks ago to pursue an acting career, stood in front of the models with a digital camera in hand. Richard, a friend, had just taken a shot of her in the arms of the model with the “I” on his chest.
“He was very sweet and nice,” Jennifer said, looking at herself smiling in the photo. “So was 'P,' 'R,' and 'D.' I don't want to get him in trouble, but 'E' wasn't very nice.”
“He told me not to judge him,” said Richard, after he asked 'E' if he could take a picture with him. “He was mean.”
Another friend, also named Jennifer, who was visiting from New York, didn't like 'E' either.
“Get rid of him,” she said, and then took a sip from her drink.
Seemingly out of nowhere, an actor and model named Vincent De Paul interrupted the girls.
“Isn't this wonderful?” he asked, and looked over at the models. “It's wonderful to be celebrating fashion and pride and masculinity this way.”
The girls moved away and De Paul kept talking.
“Whenever a designer like Armani holds an event like this,” he said, “I always try to show up.”
After explaining a few other reasons why the night was wonderful, De Paul's cell phone rang and he picked up.
“I have to go to the front,” he said without explanation, and walked away.
A few minutes later, De Paul took off his shirt in the middle of the crowd and tried on a white Armani shirt. It fit him well, and he seemed to consider buying it. Whether he knew it or not, a portion of the sales of that shirt, and anything else that sold in the store, would be donated to the LA Gay & Lesbian Center. The line at the cash register was long. It would probably be a good night for everyone.
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