Photograph by Jeff Martin
What: 15th Annual Human Rights Campaign National Dinner
Where: Walter E. Washington Convention Center
When: October 1, 2011
Tickets: $275 and up
Who: Well, President Barack Obama was there, which meant both a buzzing crowd and a 40-minute security wait at check-in. Though the President only stayed for his speech (it was, after all, his and Michelle’s wedding anniversary), there were plenty of big names on hand to keep the audience’s attention. Walking the white carpet were Cyndi Lauper, the night’s headline performer, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his special surprise guest, Sarah Jessica Parker, Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson, rugby player Ben Cohen, Betty DeGeneres (mother of talk-show host Ellen), singer Mika, and pre-teen YouTube phenom Greyson Chance.
Several political notables graced the guest list as well, including DC mayor Vincent Gray, former second lady Tipper Gore, DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Wisconsin congresswoman and senatorial candidate Tammy Baldwin. Most were on hand to honor Joe Solmonese, who will be stepping down in 2012 after serving as the Human Rights Campaign’s president for seven years.
Food and drink: A large open bar was the centerpiece of the pre-dinner silent auction, pouring beer, wine, and classed-up rail drinks—Dewar’s on the rocks and drinks with Grey Goose vodka were popular choices.
The three-course dinner began with a Mediterranean salad dotted with butternut squash, olives, Feta, and tomatoes. Garlic shrimp and grilled chicken were the main course, and major HRC donor Hershey’s sponsored dessert—a double chocolate mousse, brownie, and a selection of Hershey’s Bliss chocolates.
Scene: President Obama’s speech brought the packed, perfectly dressed audience to its feet, with applause lines both sincere (“you should never have to look over your shoulder to be gay in this country”) and humorous (“I took a trip to California and had a productive bilateral meeting with your leader, Lady Gaga”) After his speech, a chant of “four more years” echoed across the room.
A few more speeches followed the President before the dinner break. After the meal came surprise guest Sarah Jessica Parker, on hand to introduce the winner of this year’s Ally for Equality award, Michael Bloomberg.
A live auction segment of the evening that served as a fundraiser for HRC meant well, but in a room with close to 300 tables, it’s nearly impossible to see every bidder. One woman shrieked after the auctioneer missed her $12,000 bid for a trip to Africa over Thanksgiving.
Last came a video honoring outgoing HRC president Joe Solmonese. Attendees also heard a speech by Tammy Baldwin and performance by longtime friend and HRC ally Cyndi Lauper, who wrapped up the evening and got the tuxedo-and-ballgown-clad crowd dancing in and on whatever space they could to “True Colors” and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” There was an after party, too, with glowsticks, a photo shoot with a Lexus convertible, and a performance by Mika. Many of the event’s younger attendees rushed out of the ballroom at the end of the official event to score a good spot for Mika’s show, bypassing the lines of volunteers handing out gift bags with small tokens from many of the HRC’s corporate donors (such as a stuffed pony from Wells Fargo).
Boldface names: 5 out of 5.
Swankiness: 5 out of 5.
Food and drink: 3.5 out of 5.
Exclusivity: 4 out of 5.
Total: 17.5 out of 20.