By Kate Kight
Washington D.C. (The Hollywood Times) 9/11/16 –
A new sense of urgency filled the vast ballroom at the HRC gala. While the 3,600 attendees came to raise their glasses to the many victories HRC has won, the importance of the upcoming presidential election and the tragedy of Pulse and were never far from anyone’s mind. The presence of Secret Service, who set up secure entrances complete with bomb-sniffing dogs, reinforced the new normal for political and LGBTQ events in 2016.
Entering the gala, HRC dazzled with a high-tech display featuring the many sponsors of the evening’s proceedings. Wells Fargo, presenting sponsor, dominated the convention hall with a glowing booth highlighting their commitment to equality. Guests were subtly directed to the silent auction, featuring a plethora of items and experiences from the DC Metro area.
The red carpet was a testament to the diversity of HRC supporters, in age, fashion, and occupation. Event co-chairs June Crenshaw and Bruce Rohr, striking figures in a red gown and crisp tux, kicked off the photo-op. Instagram star Frankie Grande, sparkling from head to toe, made it halfway across the platform before whipping his phone out and posing with fitness guru Stacey Griffith, writer and artist Jacob Tobia, and actress Alexis Zall. Rich Ross, Adam Sanderson, Justin Makita, and Jim Obergefell all graced us with their presence as well.
Vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine delivered the keynote speech. He frankly addressed his evolution on LGBT rights, admitting that his Catholic faith was once in tension with marriage equality. Now with a record of fighting for LGBT rights as governor, he asked, “Who am I to challenge God for the beautiful diversity of the human family?”.
The night’s program was a seamless interweaving of LGBT activists and Hollywood stars, reminding us that LGBT rights are not only mainstream, but cool. Sarah McBride, the first transgender woman to address a national party convention, introduced Nyle DiMarco, the first deaf winner of America’s Next Top Model and Dancing with the Stars. Mr. Dimarco, who defines as sexually fluid, spoke to the crowd in American Sign Language. The corporate sponsor video, filled with household names like Coca-Cola, Target, and Shell, was a reminder that for as many battles as still face HRC and the LGBTQ community, Fortune 500 companies know their future is in equality and diversity.
The night also featured personal and painful stories. Tina Madison White, author and trans activist, told the crowd that when she realized she would rather commit suicide then continue living as a man, she knew it was time to find help. She found that help at HRC, and urged the crowd to donate to HRC, to make sure transgender children around the world find the same help she did.
The grief of the Pulse nightclub tragedy was raw for many in the room, but none more so than Christine Leinonen, mom of Orlando Pulse Victim Christopher Leinonen. Her tears gave a heartbreaking tribute to the shattered sense of security the LGBT community now endures.
To bring levity back to the evening, comedian and “everyone’s lesbian best friend” Dana Goldberg jumped to the stage with quips about the sizes of several of Trump’s body parts. She expertly led a live of auction of vacation and shopping packages, and announced the grand raffle prize: a 2017 Lexus NX Turbo.
Samira Wiley (star of Orange is the New Black and You’re the Worst Thing), lit up the room with her smile. A D.C. native, she gave a shoutout to her parents, who were in attendance, before introducing civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis. His thunderous rhetoric had attendees raising glasses and punching the air, as he declared “We’ve come too far, we’ve made too much progress. We are not going back, we’re going forward!”.
Performing also was Broadway star Billy Porter and British singer-songwriter Estelle, who closed out the evening with her hit “American Boy”.
On the eve of the worst terrorist attack in America’s history, HRC president Chad Griffin made it very clear that the future of progress hangs in the balance on November 8th. With over $350,000 raised for their PAC in one evening, HRC is a major political force in 2016. They have assured their place in lockstep with the “other” HRC, and together the Human Rights Campaign and Hillary Clinton will stand on the frontlines of history this fall.
With their work cut out ahead of them, HRC staff and major donors took time to celebrate the success of the evening at the afterparty. Sponsored by Diageo’s Bulleit Bourbon, drinks and dancing lasted well into the night.