Over the years it has become harder for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) to top their previous national dinners with both entertainment and a keynote speaker. But last Saturday evening they did just that.
Over 3,400 people gathered at the Walter Washington Convention Center in the District of Columbia to celebrate the progress made by the LGBT community in the past year and to recommit to continue the fight for full civil and human rights.
The first speaker was Eric Holder, the retiring attorney general, who spoke of his and the Obama Administration’s commitment to the LGBT community and said, “I will continue to stand with you wherever I am”. Then Yeardley Smith, best known as the voice off Lisa Simpson in the Simpsons, introduced a film on HRC which spoke to the new initiative they have begun in the South and their expanded work around the world. HRC’s President Chad Griffin then spoke eloquently as he always does about how far we have come and how difficult the road ahead will be. He committed HRC to lead the fight in Congress for the LGBT Equality Act, first introduced by Bella S. Abzug (D-NY) in 1974. It goes well beyond ENDA and would guarantee the LGBT community their rights not just with regard to employment but in housing, public accommodations and the full spectrum of other federal rights.
Griffin, who grew up in Hope, Arkansas, introduced the keynoter for the evening, former President Bill Clinton. Clinton got a rousing standing reception. While there are still a few in the community who will never forgive him signing DOMA and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, it was clear that those in the room who represent the overwhelming feeling in the community understand that was a different time and that today Bill Clinton is someone who will not only stand up for but will speak out for our community across the globe.
Clinton reminded people it had been seventeen years since he last spoke at an HRC dinner and of the extraordinary gains made since then. He hailed HRC and all the activists who have pushed open the door to gain civil and human rights for the LGBT community. He quoted former New York Governor Mario Cuomo who said “We campaign in poetry but govern in prose” and said HRC needs to do both to not only gain our rights legally but then ensure that they are fully implemented. He got a rousing cheer when he joked about how much he loves the initials HRC. Clinton spoke about countries like Uganda where he has worked to make great strides against HIV/AIDS through his foundation working with the Elton John Foundation and the Gates Foundation and yet because of the politics there gay people are often still afraid for their lives. He spoke of how countries around the world now understand how interconnected we are yet haven’t learnt how to live together. He spoke of how important it is for the United States to live up to its responsibilities in the area of human rights so that others can see us as a beacon of what is right. He ended his speech to a rousing standing ovation and said “he hopes that he will be alive and asked to come back seventeen years from now to celebrate all the advances that the LGBT community will have made by then both here and around the world”.
After dinner Sir Elton John and his husband David Furnish were honored for their work in the fight against HIV/AIDS and for being symbols to the world of how far we can go if we are dedicated to the fight. Jennifer Hudson sang and brought down the house with all 3,400 on their feet.
The dinner attracts people from around the nation which this year included Judge Vaughn Walker who wrote the stellar opinion in the Proposition 8 Case and Ambassador Andrew Young who has spent an illustrious career fighting for civil rights. Then there are the local attendees like David Perruzza manager of JRs and his husband Richard Paules of Paules Landscaping LLC; Josh Levie of JELCreative and his friend Matt Sokolowski and Marshall Sanders one of the nation’s premier yoga instructors with a friend Tim Gold, CEO and President, Velvet Foundation. It was another great evening for the community and the largest LGBT rights organization in the world.
On a beautiful Saturday morning thousands participated in what was formally called AIDS Walk but this year became the Walk to End HIV. The name change is an indication of how far we have come in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Today we know how to keep people from getting sick and how to keep those who are alive. We are making tremendous progress toward ending this epidemic altogether.
But even with this progress much money is still needed to ensure that we can provide the needed care for those already ill and educate everyone else on how to avoid becoming sick. There is new medication like Truvada that can stop the disease from spreading but it can cost $1,000 a month or more for a person to take. So by whatever name we call the Walk the need to join in to raise funds continues.
Whitman Walker Health (WWH) which sponsors the walk has been a leader in fighting HIV/AIDS in the District of Columbia for decades. The first DC AIDS Walk was held in 1987. This 28th Walk was another success with thousands of people coming out to participate in the walk and the 5k run that was held with it.
The program prior to the run/walk was mc’d by TV News 4 anchors’ Eun Yang and Aaron Gilchrist, two members of the community who give unstintingly of their time to make a difference. Mayor Vincent Gray addressed the crowd and spoke of how far we have come and how much is still to be done. Gray has been up-front in this fight since he headed the Social Services Administration long before he ever ran for office. Then as a member of the Council, Chair of the Council and now Mayor he has done more than any other politician in the city to make sure that there are funds available for both treatment and education. He has been a champion in this fight. The Executive Director of WWH, Don Blanchon, spoke of the people who are impacted by HIV/AIDS and the work of WWH. Blanchon has taken WWH from an organization that often ran in the red to a stable organization running in the black and one that people know they can count on for years to come.
Those holding up the banner in front of the marchers and helping to kick of the walk along with Gray and Blanchon were councilmembers David Grosso and Yvette Alexander. Also seen in the crowd was Council-at-large candidate Courtney R. Snowden.
As we walk year after year as a community we should be proud of the progress we are making in fighting this disease. But we can’t be satisfied until there is a year when there is not one new case of HIV in our city. Until then we will keep walking.
Sunday dawned cold and clear, a great day for the Annual Shakespeare GALA. The Gala events began with brunch at the British Ambassador’s residence. A delicious brunch buffet was served and by noon the weather had gotten warm enough that everyone headed out to the beautiful gardens to bask in the sun. Ambassador and Lady Westmacott were as usual incredibly gracious hosts.
This year’s Gala honored three incredible actors, Diana Rigg, John Hurt and Stacey Keach, with the prestigious William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre which like other major awards is known by a shortened name; the Will Award. Unfortunately Diana Rigg was under the weather and couldn’t attend. But everyone was excited to meet and chat with John Hurt and Stacy Keach and their charming wives. I had the good fortune of meeting Stacy Keach last season when he played Falstaff so brilliantly at the Harman Theatre.
The Gala is a benefit for the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s education fund and a huge round of applause went up when Michael Klein, Chair of the Board of STC, announced that for the first time the Gala had raised more than $1 million. Kudo’s to Gala Co-chairs Meg and John Hauge and Suzanne and Glen Youngkin and their Gala committee. Klein also awarded the Sidney Harman Award for Philanthropy in the Arts to the Beech Street Foundation. Accepting for the foundation were its co-trustees Jeffrey D. Bauman and his wife Linda Feinberg.
The evening performance lived up to all expectations. The Will awards were presented to the honorees by the incomparable Michael Kahn, Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Theatre. The Mistress of Ceremonies for the evening was the incredible Judith Light who we remember for so many great roles but particularly her brilliant performance at the Shakespeare as Hedda Gabler. She introduced the various performances and kept the evening flowing with a great script by Norman Allen. The entertainment included Funk It Up About Nothin’ a production by The Q Brothers with Erika Ratcliff, Clayton Stamper and GQ.
We were treated to a violin suite composed by Erich Korngold and played brilliantly by Sean Avram Carpenter and his accompanist Mary Anne Huntsman as well as dances from Doug Elkins’ MO(OR)TOWN/REDUX.
The show’s finale was a treat with a song from the beautiful and talented Margo Seibert along with a spotlight on three STC education program students’ Jackson de Vallance, Camilla Johnson and Kelai’ah Wheelan.
After the program guests all walked over to the Building Museum for a sumptuous dinner prepared by Occasions Caterers and an evening of dancing. All-in-all another great night and success for the STC.