Bill Clinton Strikes the Right Note at HRC Dinner
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.