Mayor says thanks; Cumming urges everyone to be “‘loud, proud homos’
More than 3,000 people attending the 25th anniversary Black Tie Dinner at the Adams Mark Hotel on Saturday night reveled in the results of the Nov. 7 midterm elections and predictions of better times to come for the LGBT community.
Keynote speaker Geena Davis and Elizabeth Birch Award winner Alan Cumming led a list of luminaries at the event that included Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, Mayor Laura Miller and Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese.
The formal affair, the largest of its kind in the country, raises money each year to be divided between the Human Rights Campaign and an array of local LGBT and AIDS organizations. The dinner raised more than $9 million in its first 24 years, more than $1.2 million of that total coming from last year’s dinner which featured keynote speaker Lily Tomlin and Birch Award winner Sharon Stone.
Officials said the final tally from the 2006 dinner will be announced at a reception on Dec. 19 when checks will be handed out to HRC and this year’s 18 local beneficiaries.
Valdez the first woman, first Hispanic and first lesbian ever elected sheriff of Dallas County noted that the LGBT community will always need help from its non-gay allies as she introduced Mayor Miller, who is considered one of the community’s staunchest allies in North Texas.
Miller, who has said she will not run for re-election next year, told the audience that the two things she will miss most about being mayor are riding in the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade and attending the Black Tie Dinner. She later told DVTV correspondent Jenni Beauchamp that she will continue to attend the event even after leaving office because it is “my favorite party” each year.
“Thank you for all you do for Dallas,” Miller said, “for being smart and sinewy and sexy, for giving us style and humor and grace. And thank you for letting me be one of your many, your fiercest protector.”
Solmonese also thanked the North Texas LGBT community for giving “us what we needed to change” the direction of the U.S. Congress by helping elect a majority of what he called “fair-minded” representatives and senators.
“Something is going on in Dallas, and you know it,” Solmonese said. “It is a new day, and we are on the precipice of great milestones.”
Cumming told the audience one of his favorite sayings is one he learned from a very wise female limo driver named “Sissy” while filming on location in Austin.
While in the limo, Cumming said, he was complaining to Sissy about a recent break-up and going down a list of “I wish”-es, when she interrupted him with the adage, “If wishes were fishes, we’d all take a swim.”
But, Cumming continued, he had seen at least some of his wishes come true in the midterm elections the previous Tuesday.
“But I also wish that we don’t rest on our laurels. Remember, silence will not protect you,” continued the bisexual actor who described himself as “a loud homo” and urged the other “loud homos” in the audience to be “even louder now” in the battle against bigotry and hatred.
“Now, hopefully, we have the kind of politicians who are not afraid of us and who will not use us as tools,” he said.
While spending most of his short speech praising the possibility of future progress under new political leaders, Cumming also took the opportunity to criticize others, including the president.
“Shame on you, President Bush. As a humanitarian, you have been a disgrace to this great country. Shame on you,” he said.
Cumming also warned that the recent electoral victories by moderates and progressives will not eliminate prejudice. Only education and “loud, proud homos” living openly and with integrity can accomplish that, he said, ending with the declaration, “It’s time we took a swim in Lake Equality.”
Another highlight of the evening came with the live auction of several “luxury” items.
Cumming returned to the stage to help auction off a Labrador puppy donated by Hewitt and Habgood Realty Group that went for $15,500. And Davis took off the diamond and ruby earrings she had been wearing donated by Eiseman Jewels NorthPark to auction them off for $16,000.
Davis then removed her shoes which a spokesman said were her personal shoes, not items donated for the auction and placed them on the podium, asking for bids on the size 11 pumps with four-inch heels.
Davis said, “We’re not fooling around here folks. These are some very important charities we are raising money for. And I am the pretend former president of the United States!”
Davis won a Golden Globe for her role as first female president of the U.S. in the now-defunct television drama “Commander In Chief.” The “pretend former president’s” black pumps sold for $11,000.
Keynote speaker Davis stresses importance of media images in battle for equality for all people
“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come, and our time has come,” actor Geena Davis declared to raucous applause from the capacity audience at last Saturday night’s Black Tie Dinner.
Davis, keynote speaker for the 25th anniversary of the fundraising dinner, stressed the importance of accurate and representational images in the media in any movement for equality.
Davis joked that in an effort to deliver a speech that was unique and would “turn your thinking” into new paths, she had decided to speak on how to be an actor.
“First, get really big parts in major motion pictures. Okay, that’s pretty much it,” she said to laughter from the crowd.
But then after explaining that she has always preferred to be called an actor instead of an actress and describing her hope that the word actress would soon follow words such as authoress, doctoress and aviatrix into oblivion Davis turned her attention to the more serious issue of the role the media plays in defining society and equality.
She recalled her role as Thelma in the 1991 feminist iconic movie “Thelma and Louise,” followed by her role as baseball player Dottie Hinson in 1992′s “A League of Their Own.”
Davis said that although the filmmakers, actors and crew knew when they were filming it that “Thelma and Louise” would be a good movie, they were not prepared for people’s especially women’s reactions to the film.
“I had so many women come up to me after that and tell me, “‘That movie changed my life,’” Davis said.
The same thing happened, Davis said, the next year after “A League of Their Own” hit big screens, bringing the fictionalized story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League which existed from 1943-1954 to the public.
“If I had needed a lesson about the power of images in the media, I got it,” Davis said. “It was an incredible one-two punch.”
Davis said she has used her acting career to further causes about which she is passionate, especially the cause of women’s equality both by choosing roles which she hopes will inspire women and by using her celebrity to promote organizations and issues.
A semi-finalist for the U.S. Olympic Archery team in 1999, Davis is a prominent spokesperson for the Women’s Sports Foundation.
She is also the founder of See Jane, a program of Dads and Daughters, a nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1999 to promote realistic female characters in media made for children and to combat the sexualization of childhood.
Davis worked with Dads and Daughters to start the See Jane program intended to increase the realistic and statistically equal portrayal of female characters in programming for younger children after she noticed the lack of such realistic portrayals while watching television with her own children.
Davis is also an honorary board member for Dads and Daughters.
The See Jane program funded a comprehensive content-analysis study on programming for children, performed by the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, Davis said.
That study found that, statistically, there are three male characters for every one female character in children’s programs, with the disparity increasing to five-to-one in crowd scenes, Davis said.
In addition, Davis said, 89 percent of the narrators for children’s programs were male; characters of color “barely registered” and there were no identifiable LGBT characters.
“Kids see themselves reflected in the media. And when that media is telling them that girls and women and people of color and gays and lesbians don’t matter, then they take that as fact,” Davis said.
The actor also talked about the “It Takes a Team” program, a project of the Women’s Sports Foundation designed to combat homophobia in sports.
Prejudice against lesbians and bisexual women in sports discourages all women from participating, depriving them of the opportunities and enjoyment they could have derived, Davis said.
Statistics quoted in the New York Times indicated that if women continue to be added to the ranks of Congress at the same rate as in the past, “We’ll reach parity in 500 years,” Davis said.
But because of the efforts of the LGBT community and organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, “we’re not going to have to wait 500 years” to see equality for LGBT people,” she said.
“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. And our time has come.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, November 17, 2006.