Human Rights Campaign Relentless in Fight for Equality
By Brittany Banks
Photos By Devin Payne – THT
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 3/15/2015 – “When you’re thrust into a situation where 100 percent of your fans are women and you keep getting told things by the record label… Not that ‘if you’re gay, don’t come out,’ but certain things that allude to keeping your private life private… I was scared, so scared,” recalls former *NSYNC superstar Lance Bass.
Bass came out of the closet at the age of 27, subsequent to media speculation about his homosexuality. He was ready for this blessing in disguise. “I was out to my friends and family before I publicly came out [in 2006]. I was just waiting to tell the world when I was in a really loving relationship.” And that he is! Bass and husband Michael Turchin were beaming on the red carpet at the Human Rights Campaign Gala last night, held at the JW Marriott hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Having grown up in the *NSYNC era, it warmed my heart to see Bass so over-the-moon euphoric. “As long as I was in *NSYNC, I was basically asexual. Never was with a guy or a girl. Nothing. It was very lonely for sure. I’m glad I got that over with early in my life and got to become myself and marry the man of my dreams,” Bass gushes.
The host of SiriusXM’s satellite radio show “Dirty Pop” shared that someone had recently commented about how quiet he was during the height of *NSYNC. Bass replied, “Yeah, I was afraid to talk. I thought if I said anything, people would just figure it out, so I was very mute and shy.”
Despite the added pressure to hide his identity to prevent jeopardizing the uber prosperous boy band, Bass’s story of LGBT injustice is one of millions, and the HRC is fighting tooth and nail to remedy that. The Human Rights Campaign is the nation’s largest Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Civil Rights organization. It consists of more than 1.5 million members and supporters.
HRC President Chad Griffin had a hand in eradicating Proposition 8, but vehemently argues that legalizing same-sex marriage is just the beginning. “We have a very long way to go in this country to get to full and complete equality under the law.” During his poignant presentation at the gala, Griffin highlighted the absence of a federal LGBT non-discrimination law. “A couple who got married at 10 a.m. can be fired from their jobs at noon and evicted from their home at 2 p.m.” As ludicrous as this statement sounds, it remains a reality for some.
The event’s special honorees were television legends Shonda Rhimes and Michael Lombardo.
Executive Producer Shonda Rhimes, spearhead of the ABC hits/TGIT lineup Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder, received the HRC Ally for Equality Award. Scandal star Guillermo Diaz presented her with the prestigious honor.
“I had no friends. So I wrote. I created friends,” Rhimes elucidated during her acceptance speech. She described her childhood self as “highly intelligent, way too chubby, sensitive, nerdy, and painfully shy.” Consequently, the recurring theme in her subject matter is “being alone. The need to hear the words ‘you are not alone.’”
Rhimes hates the word “diversity,” favoring the term “normalizing.” She prides herself on making TV mirror the real world. “If I’m doing my job right, there will be a person for everyone” (in Shondaland, her production company).
President of HBO Programming, Michael Lombardo, received the HRC Visibility Award. During his tenure, HBO has launched the acclaimed Game of Thrones, True Blood, and Boardwalk Empire, to name a few. Girls creator and star Lena Dunham introduced Lombardo as a firm believer that “seeing yourself reflected back in popular culture is a right, not a privilege.”
Lombardo shared the challenge he faced as a homosexual working at a law firm, where coming out was frowned upon. “The thought of living two lives – personal and professional – felt like a death sentence to me.” As far as Lombardo is concerned, he has already attained the highest achievement: “Living my life honestly and openly.” In his former profession, he never could have fathomed receiving a Visibility Award in front of his legally recognized husband, Sonny Ward.
(Note: Lance Bass was the recipient of the Visibility Award in 2006).
Mariah Carey was the evening’s featured entertainer. Carey spoke about her struggle growing up as a biracial person, which facilitates her ability to sympathize with victims of discrimination.
Arguably the best-selling female artist of all time with a residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas starting May 6th, Ms. Carey performed one song: “Hero.” She referred to the classic as one of her favorites because of the countless individuals who have informed her that it has impacted their lives. Unfortunately for yours truly who was sitting way in the back of the gargantuan room, Carey was singularly not featured on the jumbo screens. (You can draw your own conclusions about that tidbit).
A wide range of celebrities – gay and straight alike – came out (no pun intended) to show their solidarity.
30 Rock and Glee star Cheyenne Jackson “absolutely” believes that his LGBT peers will eventually be treated as equal members of society. “This next generation is growing up saying, ‘Yes, and?’” when someone unveils their non-straight identity.
Jackson came out to his parents and family at 19. “It was rough. They were very religious. We had to kind of break up for a while and figure out what our relationship was going to be,” he revealed. They’ve all since reconciled. The piercing-blue-eyed actor was accompanied by his husband, Jason Landau.
General Hospital’s Ryan Carnes has portrayed three gay characters throughout his career thus far, and is grateful for his extensive LGBT fan base. “Human rights should be a no-brainer. It should be automatic. We’re all here on the planet at the same time and there’s no reason that anyone should be discriminated against. As long as people aren’t hurting other people, I don’t understand why there shouldn’t be equal and fair treatment of everyone.”
Co-star Michelle Stafford was happy to support the cause. “Anything about one’s individual rights, I’m all for. Why is one more important than the other?”
Here are some additional insights from the red carpet:
* On the media’s role in raising awareness *
Peter Paige: “I was an actor on a show called Queer as Folk, which was the first ever drama to center on a group of gay people. That taught me that entertainment can change the world. I really believe that. The show that I produce now [and co-created] is called The Fosters. It’s about a lesbian couple raising five children. We just aired the youngest same-sex kiss in US television history with two 13-year-old boys. I couldn’t be more proud of that. And I couldn’t be more moved by the response. The fans, the Internet, the articles that were written – it was incredible.”
Bex Taylor-Klaus: “My first job right out of the gate was playing this homeless lesbian character on the [AMC] show The Killing (Season 3). One of my very next shows was House of Lies where I was playing gender queer. I’m currently about to start working on [the upcoming MTV horror series] Scream where I play a bi-curious daughter of a Lutheran pastor. I like to think I’m doing what I can to get the word out and raise awareness.”
Lance Bass: “The media has had a HUUUUGE impact. That’s the only way people can see the change in the world. Especially with social media, it’s going so much faster now. Thanks to this communication that we have, people are becoming way more aware of what is right and what’s wrong.”
* What does LGBT equality mean to you? *
Peter Paige: “Opportunities for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It means the same legal rights as everybody else. And it’s coming. It’s a long process and there’s more than marriage to be done. You can get married in 37 states now, but you can still be fired in all but 13 just for being gay. You put a picture of your wedding on your desk and you can get fired.”
Betty DeGeneres: “LGBT equality means everything because my daughter [Ellen] is a lesbian. I want her respected for the person she is.”
Ryan Carnes: “I have friends who have been impacted by emotional or psychological violence by discrimination because they’re ‘different,’ so it’s important to me.”
* If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be? *
Peter Paige: “The vilification of the other. The fact that we as human beings have this terrible base instinct to be afraid of and terrorize anything we don’t understand innately and I think that’s led to most of our trouble.”
Betty DeGeneres: “For people to love and respect each other. It doesn’t matter what they look like, what color they are, what religion they are. Allow for differences.”
Bex Taylor-Klaus: “Tolerance. I think more people need it. There’s far too much judgment just based on people being who they are, and I think that’s the saddest thing in the world.”
* What advice would you give to someone who’s afraid to come out? *
Peter Paige: “Find your tribe. Find your posse. There are people out there for you beyond a shadow of a doubt.”
Betty DeGeneres: “The more people who come out the better. So often when people wait to tell their parents, the parents say, ‘Oh, I knew that.’”
Lance Bass: “Tell one person that you love and trust. A family member, The Trevor Project, I mean someone. Once you say it out loud, it starts the ball rolling and it gets easier and easier and easier.”