What: The fourteenth annual Human Rights Campaign National Dinner
Where: The Walter E. Washington Convention Center
When: Saturday, October 9 Ticket price: $275 (We’re told this is the first year the dinner sold out.) Who: A-list gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgeder figures in pop culture and government and their allies spangled the convention hall, transformed to seat 3,000. From Hollywood, Modern Family actor Jesse Taylor Ferguson shared stories of switching schools in middle school after being bullied, and his on-screen partner, Eric Stonestreet said he appreciated the chance to play half a gay couple for whom parenting isn’t cause for major comment or debate. Comedian Mo’Nique walked the red carpet with director Lee Daniels. Ally Award winner Pink posed with Bette Middler and motocross racer husband Cary Hart, and mocked dashing out of the way when Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine followed her out for pictures. And as a surprise, newly-out Ricky Martin, joking “you guys heard I’m gay, right?” kicked off the evening with his first significant political appearance on behalf of gay causes.
It wasn’t just the stars who got big ovations. The crowd cheered Kaine, Office of Personnel Management director John Berry, who is the highest-ranking openly gay executive branch official ever, presumptive DC Mayor Vincent Gray, Ambassador David Hubener and Envoy Hannah Rosenthal. Some of the loudest applause was for David Catania, the DC councilmember who spearheaded the city’s passage of an equal marriage rights bill. (He also suffered the attention of the Real Housewives of Washington, DC during that fight. Perhaps fittingly, Mary Amons, Cat Ommaney, and Paul Wharton were in the audience, and hosting an after-party at Cobalt.)
And someone on the HRC staff must have a sense of humor: senior presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett, there to detail the administration’s work on bullying and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell—though she studiously avoided mentioning marriage rights—entered and exited the stage to the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony.”
The scene: Black-tie fabulous. HRC's bash walks a fun line between campy and corporate: statuesque guys and gals in "Take A Chance With Me" t-shirts hawked raffle tickets for a new Lexus. Batala, a feminist samba drum corps, helped set the stage for a video montage of big-company sponsors ranging from law firm Paul Hastings, to Lockheed Martin, to management consulting firm Accenture, which judging by the cheers, had quite the crowd in the house. One seventeen-year-old speaker walked on stage to Katy Perry's hookup anthem "Teenage Dream."
But the evening had its somber notes too, coming close on the heels of a series of suicides by gay teenagers, and arrests in gang-related anti-gay hate crimes in New York.
"I say this to you from my heart as a mother," Jarrett told the crowd. "The worst nightmare of any parent is losing a child...We all want to protect our children."
Best Items for Auction: An original Wizard of Oz poster signed by the Lollipop Munchkin and the Munchkin Coroner, for morbid-minded Friends of Dorothy. A Stradivarius child's violin. And a Slammer electric guitar signed by No Doubt.
Food: By the convention's in-house caterers, Centerplate/NBSE. But when you're serving 3,000 people who are there for the cause and the celebrities, the food isn't the point. The bars were well-stocked and busy, even if you had to buy drink tickets, and registration areas turned into after-party bars as well during the dinner programming.
Ratings: Boldface guests: 5 (out of 5) Swankiness: 4 (out of 5) Food and drink: 3 (out of 5) Overall exclusivity: 3.5 (out of 5)