Page 8



Human Rights Campaign’s night of family unity Politics delivered with a dose of love By KAREN OCAMB The quietest shift happened at the Human Rights Campaign gala in Los Angeles Saturday night, March 30. The stage was populated with more women, trans women and people of color than rich white gay men. And it was so normal, it went unnoticed. In fact, after champion skater Adam Rippon opened the show announcing that unfortunately singer Christina Aguilera was unable to attend to accept her Ally for Equality Award, formidable trans singer Shea Diamond came out, joking she’d dressed to impress the music icon, and launched into “American Pie” with such style and power no one was thinking of Aguilera five minutes later. “Just want my piece of the American pie,” Diamond sang with swagger. “Break the chains of old beliefs, I’m the flame that you can’t unsee.” And the black tie and gown crowd in the packed ballroom at the JW Marriott downtown jumped to their feet in applause and agreement. In his seven years serving as HRC president, Chad Griffin has transformed the nation’s largest LGBT lobbying organization into a “political powerhouse,” HRC/LA director Gwen Baba said. Now, on the cusp of his exit, Griffin is focused on the federal Equality Act, introduced on March 13. The bill would amend existing civil rights laws to provide protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. HRC is now welcome at the national civil rights table as an intersectional equal, not merely as a political stepchild with deep ATM pockets. But as the HRC/LA gala logo illustrated, there’s also been a shift toward internal movement unity, signified by placing the transgender flag directly on top of the rainbow flag, with the black and brown stripes added. Unity in action—presented by the Walt Disney Company, which, to people of a certain age and business-minded entertainment industry folks, has a whole other resonance. Breaking the chains of old beliefs, indeed. Another subtle but significant shift was the sense of family equality. Heretofore,

Sen. Kamala Harris spoke March 30 in LA. Blade photo by Karen Ocamb

HRC audiences have largely been grateful for the attention from important public figures—such as when the late civil rights icon Julian Bond and Blue Dog Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein came out in support of marriage equality, for instance. This year, the undercurrent of love and support was more family at Thanksgiving than family forged by frontline battles in the culture war. The father-son love between Griffin and actor/director Rob Reiner—with whom Griffin successfully fought against the tobacco industry and Prop 8—was so real, many choked up watching Griffin choke up. But Reiner has his own message to deliver. “We know what our marching orders are,” he said. “Whoever gets nominated from the Democrats, we’re all in, right?” Griffin nailed HRC’s political power, having spent $26 million on specific, targeted races and helping galvanize equality voters to flip the House, including in traditionally beat red Orange County. HRC turned out more than 7 million LGBT voters in the 2018 midterm elections, making the difference in numerous narrow races around the country. “If you come for us, we’re coming for you on Election Day,” Griffin warned. Griffin’s deep friendship with HRC National Leadership Award honoree Yeardley Smith was palpable, as was her fierce devotion to the cause of LGBT equality. “I am here to march with you, to rally

together and vote to stop the relentless and systematic assault by the bigoted, vindictive administration that’s hell-bent on stripping us of all the progress that we have made, politically and humanly over the past 50 years,” said Smith, known for her TV character Lisa on “The Simpsons.” “You do not get to cherrypick someone’s rights,” she said. The two Democratic candidates for president—Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker—also felt at home, as if everyone had grown up together. Booker joked about how often Griffin had asked him to speak and then delivered a passionate-pastor version of his stump speech that ranged from the “moral vandalism” of the Trump administration to an excerpt from a poem by the late black gay Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes. “Demi-gods in the White House and the administration are working systematically to undermine and dismantle LGBTQ rights— from President Trump’s discriminatory and un-American ban on transgender Americans serving on the military to the Department of Justice’s refusal to protect LGBTQ Americans from employment discrimination to Betsy DeVos’ failure to protect our transgender students,” Booker said. Harris had the home-field advantage, having refused to defend Prop 8 in court as California Attorney General. She officiated

at the wedding of federal Prop 8 plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandi Stier. “These last two years and some months have certainly caused a lot of us to start talking to an inanimate object called a television and to shout at that thing,” Harris said, prompting agreeing chuckles from the crowd. “It has caused a lot of us to sign up for individual or group therapy, it has caused a lot of us to feel a lot of despair and depression and anxiety and fear. And I say, ‘Don’t let the bad guys win!’” Then Harris got serious. “This is an inflection point in our history,” she said. Look in the mirror and ask: “Who are we? We are better than this.” Harris stressed the importance of restoring “truth and justice,” noting that homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and anti-semitism are real and “born out of hate.” “We must stand together and never let anyone stand alone in their fight,” she said, noting that we “have more in common than what separates us.” Harris also referenced a poet—Emma Lazarus’ famous quote “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” “Let’s pass the Equality Act in the U.S,” she said. “Until all of us are equal, none of us are equal.” And in that room filled with family that night, that was more than a political slogan.

Profile for Los Angeles Blade, Volume 3, Issue 14, April 5, 2019, Volume 3, Issue 14, April 5, 2019, Volume 3, Issue 14, April 5, 2019, Volume 3, Issue 14, April 5, 2019