HRC president says LGBT rights will ‘take a back seat to no one’; gay bishop warns against racial divide
The mood at the 27th annual Black Tie Dinner on Saturday, Nov. 22 was a mixture of elation, disappointment and anger.
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese drew applause when he spoke about the country’s new "gifted, strong and wise leader named Barack Obama" and the "new sense of possibility in the nation’s capital" as the new president’s inauguration draws nearer.
Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson, this year’s Elizabeth Birch Award winner, and Logo President Brian Graden, accepting the Media Award on behalf of the LGBT cable TV channel, expressed the community’s disappointment and anger over the passage of California’s Proposition 8 and other anti-gay ballot initiatives in Florida, Arkansas and Arizona.
Solmonese said that although the community’s political prospects are much brighter with Obama in the White House, his organization won’t slack off in its efforts toward LGBT equality.
"The issues that affect our community take a back seat to no one," he said. "We will continue to prepare the way and lay the groundwork, and we expect to make more progress in the next four years than we have in the last 40. …
"Obama, like John F. Kennedy, will usher in a new era of hope and possibility. We are in a new morning … of light and hope and possibility," he said.
Solmonese also acknowledged the "frontal attack" on LGBT rights that came in the form of the anti-gay ballot initiatives on Nov. 4. But he said even in those losses, the community can see progress.
"Eight years ago, we lost this battle by 20 points [in California]. This year, it was only four. It is only a matter of time … and in two years, the arc of history will bend in our direction, and we will win," he said.
Robinson also urged the audience of about 2,800 to find the silver lining in the dark clouds of Prop 8 and the other measures: "Some of our younger LGBT people got a wake-up call, and maybe some of us got a reminder that we all need to be working" for equality.
But he warned against making Prop 8’s passage a racial issue. "There is not a racial divide among us," the bishop said. "It is a tried and true tactic of an oppressor to get the oppressed to fight each other" instead of a common enemy.
There is, however, a racial divide, Robinson continued. "Never has a civil rights issues been so tied to religious belief. … The church has been wrong before, and it is wrong again," he said. "The God I know is sick to death of the Bible being used to abuse us. … It is time to take the Bible back from those who wrongly use it to bludgeon us.
"It will be hard," he said. "Some of us will have to pay a price. Our community needs to be willing to pay that price. Join me in being willing to pay that price."
Graden, after thanking the audience for "helping create a world where Logo can exist," recalled the immediate aftermath of the Prop 8 vote in California: "We felt like we had been sucker-punched."
But, the TV exec added, that anger and disappointment must be funneled into productive action. "History only spins forward," he said. "This is our America, too. This will be our time."
The evening also featured a keynote speech by fashion designer Kenneth Cole, who talked about the founding of his company 20 years ago and the large part that social activism and AIDS activism have played in its development.
Cole, who is also on the board of the American Foundation Fighting AIDS, reminded the crowd that "to be aware is more important than what you wear."
Black Tie co-chairs Randy Ray and Laurie Foley presented the Kuchling Humanitarian Award to co-winners Phil Johnson and Rebecca Covell.
Johnson, known as the historian of Dallas’ LGBT community, recalled his decades of activism, of chronicling the community’s history and collecting mementos of that history. He did it all, he said, because "I don’t want another child to grow up thinking, as I did, ‘I’m the only one.’"
Covell, an attorney, told the audience that the battle for equality "won’t be won in the courts. It will be won in our backyards. … Tell your stories. Come out. When you are authentic with them, they understand. It makes politics personal."
Ray said this week that about 2,800 people attended the event at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel.
"Although it was not a sell-out, we had a wonderful response to this year’s dinner from sponsors, table captains and individual ticket purchasers. We had about the same number of guests as in 2007," he said.
The DFW Federal Club Luxury Travel Package featuring stays in Sofitel Hotels and first-class round-trip travel from Los Angeles to Tahiti on Tahiti Nui Air was the top seller in the live luxury auction, going for $26,000. Ray said final totals from the live and silent auctions are not yet complete.
Each year, the Human Rights Campaign receives about half of the total proceeds from the Black Tie Dinner, with the rest being divided between local beneficiaries. Early in the evening, a small group of transgender activists protested outside the front doors of the hotel to draw attention to what they said was HRC’s lack of support for transgender equality. (See story, Page 6.) A parking valet said the number of protesters ranged from two to about five, and that the group left shortly after 7 p.m., when most of the dinner attendees had already arrived. The dispute that sparked the protest can be traced back to 2007 and HRC’s willingness to support a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that did not include transgenders.
Ray said Black Tie organizers had been aware there might be protesters at the event, but that he had not heard anyone at the dinner comment on the group outside.
"We certainly understand the issues that the transgender community is concerned about," Ray said. "Black Tie’s mission statement is focused on the full GLBT community, and many of our beneficiaries have transgender programs, including the education and outreach of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
"We were pleased this year to include the transgender community in the telling of our Stories Untold, and to have the positive images of the transgender community in the videos Saturday night at the dinner," he added. "We were also pleased that the recipient of our Elizabeth Birch Equality Award, Bishop Gene Robinson, reached out to the transgender community in Texas and participated in the Transgender Conversation Saturday afternoon."
Proceeds from the dinner will be distributed to beneficiaries during a reception on Dec. 18 at 6:30 p.m. in the Austin Ballroom at the Sheraton Dallas. The 2009 Black Tie Dinner has been set for Oct. 3 at the same hotel. Ray said the event was moved up to the earlier date to accommodate schedules at the hotel.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 28, 2008.