Marlee Matlin to keynote Black Tie Dinner

Eric Alva and Marlee Matlin

Decorated veteran Eric Alva tapped as Birch Award winner; special entertainment still to be announced

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Black Tie Dinner co-chairs Nan Arnold and Chris Kouvelis this week rounded out their 2011 “dream team” with the announcement that award-winning actress Marlee Matlin will be keynote speaker at the November fundraising event, and that decorated Iraq War veteran Eric Alva will receive the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award.

“We are so thrilled to have both of them with us this year,” said Arnold. “This gives us a real ‘dream team’” of honorees and speakers this year.

Black Tie officials announced earlier this year that local activist Chet Flake and his partner, the late Bud Knight, will receive the 2011 Raymond Kuchling Humanitarian Award, and that Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson will receive the Media Award.

Comedian and Sordid Lives: The Series star Caroline Rhea will be emcee for the event.

Arnold and Kouvelis also hinted that more big announcements are yet to come, thanks to the involvement of dinner sponsor Diamond Jacks Casino and Resort of Shreveport.

“Diamond Jacks has stepped up from their previous Silver Sponsor level to become a Diamond Level sponsor, and that has been a huge deal for us,” Arnold said. “It lets us do even more than before.

“They have been super to work with,” she continued. “Diamond Jack’s played a huge role in helping us secure Marlee Matlin as our speaker, and they are playing a huge role in helping us bring in some other very special entertainment. We hope to be making that announcement soon.”

Matlin in 1986 became the youngest woman — and the only deaf person — ever to receive the Academy Award for best actress when she won the award at age 21 for her role in Children of a Lesser God. She also won a Golden Globe award for that role.

She went on to a successful career in both movies and television, including a role as Bette Porter’s partner, Jodi Lerner, in 29 episodes of Showtime’s lesbian drama The L Word, from 2007 to 2009.

Matlin has also been active in a number of charitable organizations, including Easter Seals, where she was named an honorary board member; the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, VSA arts and the Red Cross Celebrity Cabinet.

She was appointed by President Clinton in 1994 to the Corporation for National Service and served as chair of National Volunteer Week.
Arnold described Matlin as a vocal supporter of LGBT rights.

Retired Marine Staff Sgt. Alva, a San Antonio native, was the first American serviceman injured in the Iraq War, losing his right leg when he stepped on a land mine while leading a supply unit in March 2003.

In 2007, Alva came out publicly as a gay man and has been working with the Human Rights Campaign since then to end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which has kept lesbians and gay men from serving openly.

Although Congress voted last December to repeal DADT, the policy has remained in effect while military leaders conducted training to prepare the military for open service by lesbians and gays. The president and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff certified repeal last month, and repeal takes effect, finally, on Sept. 20 — less than a month before Alva will accept the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award in Dallas.

“This is such an exciting time for him,” Kouvelis said of Alva. “He has been working tirelessly since he left the service and came out to get DADT repealed. Now it’s finally happening.

“We are just so thrilled with what he has done for our community, and so thrilled that he will be accepting this award. He is a real hero,” Kouvelis added.

Arnold added that when DADT repeal legislation last December, Alva was “standing there, right behind him, looking over the president’s shoulder as he signed it.” She also said that Alva, who is featured in the current issue of GQ Magazine, was a special guest a previous Black Tie Dinner.

“It is so wonderful to have him back with us, especially at such an exciting time,” Arnold said.

The Black Tie co-chairs this week also offered a preview of some of the items that will be included in the luxury auction at the dinner this year. Auction items include an eight-day trip to Rome and Malta, a complete bathroom remodel, a Scotland wedding package and a Puerto Vallarta vacation.

In addition, raffle tickets are still available, for $100 each, for a chance to win a 2012 Mercedes Benz C300 Sport Coupe, donated by Park Place Motorcars of Dallas. Raffle tickets are available online and from Black Tie board members and beneficiaries.

Sponsorships are still available, but only for a short time more, and table captain table sales are ongoing.

For information on becoming a table captain, email mlemons@blacktie.org. For information on becoming a Black Tie Dinner sponsor, email mmcquown@blacktie.org.

—  John Wright

Of gays, Glee and generations

GLEEFUL | The cast of Glee poses with the show’s Golden Globe Award for “Best Television Series — Comedy or Musical” in January. (Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

TV has always been a reflection of both society’s current and future climates; and Fox comedy tells of great changes happening

HARDY HABERMAN | Flagging Left

I guess I have just renewed my “Gay Card” since I have become a fan of the hit television show Glee. The show’s weekly musical fantasy reminds me of those 1930s musical movies I grew up watching on my parent’s old black and white Zenith television. Yes I am that old.

Aside from the nostalgia factor, the show is very telling about today’s society and should be encouraging to anyone in the LGBT community. Several of the characters on the show are gay.

Glee is not the first show to have gay characters. That honor goes to the short-lived sitcom The Corner Bar back in 1972. (Vincent Schiavelli was the first actor to play a continuing gay character, Peter Panama, on U.S. television.)

But on Glee, though some plots revolve around the character’s being gay, more and more their sexuality is just an accepted fact.

Though Will and Grace did much the same thing a decade ago, Glee breaks new ground with its high school-aged characters. What I find refreshing about the show is both the treatment of the gay characters on the show, and more importantly, the country’s reaction to it. It is a hit!

The fact that Fox aired a new episode of Glee immediately following the Super Bowl — and the episode included a gay sub-plot and yet still garnered record-breaking ratings — says a lot. Though as a nation, the United States is still riddled with homophobia and all it’s variations, as a whole we are moving toward a level of acceptance I have never seen before.

And remember, I grew up watching black-and-white TV.

Television, for all its flaws, is a pretty good bellwether for American society and opinions. Though TV often helps shape attitudes, it also reflects them, and the medium of comedy has proven to be one of the most potent for both.

Had Archie Bunker in All in the Family not reflected the stubborn resistance of an older generation to change in the 1970s, it would have been far less funny. Had Maude not skewered the strident overly-politically-correct character played by Bea Arthur, it would never have resonated with viewers.

Now comes Glee, with a raft of teenagers and their inherent hormone-driven drama set to music that cuts across generations. Teen pregnancy, bullying, homophobia and the pitfalls of gay dating are all fair game — and the public not only gets it, it embraces it.

That is progress.

Now before you set pen to paper and accuse me of being a Pollyanna, yes, I know it’s still tough for LGBT people out here in the real world. But what I am encouraged by is the number of changes I am beginning to see.

Talk to young people, and ask them their attitudes toward LGBT people. From the ones I have spoken with, (in a very unscientific study) they do not see sexual orientation as the big deal as it once was.

The older generation who that harbors those prejudices against LGBT people are looking more and more like Archie Bunker. Groups who once held sway — like the American Family Association — have now been relegated to the status of a fringe hate group, where they should have been all along.

According to recent surveys, young people have more favorable views of LGBT people than do older folks. That’s encouraging. You see, that means the homophobes are decreasing by attrition as well as by change in attitude. And that means the next generation will be far less likely to hold the prejudices of their elders.

That means Americans can watch a show where the plot revolves around Kurt trying to figure out how to tell Blaine how he really feels and the fact that he is gay is not key to the plot. That is a big step from the days of gays being only the subject of dramas like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or The Killing of Sister George.

More importantly, LGBT people are no longer the punchline in comedy. Today it is the homophobe who is considered funny and out of step. Once again it’s the Archie Bunkers of this world who have become the punchline and that’s well worth smiling at.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright