The Human Rights Campaign Los Angeles held their black tie Gala Saturday night, honoring two shining stars in media who promote LGBT rights: Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice and Scandal, and Michael Lombardo, President of HBO Programming. Lena Dunham, Senator Al Franken, Sara Ramirez and Mariah Carey were some of the notable personalities who attended and appeared on stage at the event.
Executives from Disney, ABC, HBO, actors Matt Bomer, Joe Morton, Maria Bello, Sara Ramirez, George Takei and many other supporters and donors packed the enormous ballroom, who were also there to hear Chad Griffin, HRC's President, deliver his mission statement and action items for the year.
Senator Franken opened the event entertaining the immense ball room at the JW Marriot. His easy manner hides an uncanny ability to cleverly deliver information. He pointed out that when he was elected in 2008, only one state in the union had same sex marriage and that was Massachusetts, and now thanks to HRC's work seven years later, there are 37 states that recognize marriage equality.
"That means 72 percent of Americans live in a state that acknowledge the commitment of same sex couples." He pointed out that California passed the first marriage equality bill in the country in 2005, that bill was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger. "Something, I guess, about the sanctity of marriage," he said as an aside. Though at the time the Governor publicly stated the voters should decide. "I want to thank HRC for their support and all the work you've all been doing to move us toward full equality in schools and the workplace. I believe all Americans no matter their race, sex, gender identity, should all stand equal under the law."
Shonda Rhimes in receiving her Ally for Equality award, talked about hating the term "diversity."
I hate that word. How ridiculous. As if there is something...unusual about telling stories involving women and people of color and LGBTQ characters on TV. I have a different word. Normalizing. I'm normalizing TV. I am making TV look like the world looks.
She explained that she started writing because she felt alone. She was often excluded by her peers, and often the only black girl in the room. She pointed out that women, people of color, LGBTQ people equal way more than 50 percent of the population. And she made a point to say if you are in those communities you are not alone. "You should get to turn on the TV and see your tribe, see someone like you out there, existing. I'm still often the only black woman in the room. Look around this room tonight," she pointedly said. "But I've found my tribe, and my people." She received a huge round of applause.
Earlier, when I asked her for her thoughts on giving back to the community and being recognized for an award like this, she was quick to point out how honored she was, but that's not how she thinks. "I think of writing a good story first, and when you do that truthfully, when you put that story into the world it affects people." She told me of a fan letter she received from a father who said a story line on Grey's Anatomy helped him understand his own gay son.
She was handed her award by Guillermo Diaz who gave his own emotional introduction. He currently plays the popular assassin Huck in Scandal. He described his audition, one he was sure he wasn't going to get, because the smart sociopathic killer on the page he assumed would be white. "But I went to the audition anyway. And there I was -- an openly gay Latino actor. I was sure I wasn't going to get it." He explained how, not only did he get the call for the part a few weeks later, but also how Shonda makes all her characters real people. "LGBT characters aren't just sidekicks or hiding in the shadows. We all have real lives, and real problems and hot sex," he said, which got a big laugh.
Lena Dunham presented Michael Lombardo with his Visibility Award. Though funny, she was also poignant and said he gives the best notes in the business.
And you know with Mike when you get a note that censorship has nothing to do with it. He believes deeply in each artist's right to show their truth, and sometimes that truth is ugly... he supports and gives parts to members in the LGBT community, people of color and women because he truly believes these diverse voices matter, are necessary and that seeing yourself reflected back in popular culture is a right, not a privilege.
Multiple show runners gave their words of congratulations from pre-recorded comments on the big media screens, from Alan Ball, creator of True Blood, to Darren Star creator of Sex and the City, who all seemed to be reading off the same cue card, but were merely echoing the same sentiment of gratitude -- thanking him for his passion, humanity and giving their unusual and creative choices a chance.
Michael Lombardo was gracious and emotional as he accepted his award. He explained he never expected, or even now particularly understood why he was chosen for this award, even though it was such an honor.
Telling an emotional story of how a beloved mentor advised him early in his career to keep the fact that he was gay a secret if he wanted to be successful; he realized he never could.
"I had this fantasy that I could find a different way...the thought that I would need to live two separate lives, a personal one and a professional one, felt like a death sentence." He wound up, he said, being recognized tonight for something that seems so simple. "Living my life honestly and openly -- is really the highest achievement I can have hoped for."
He closed by saying --
You know, if 30 years ago I had been told not only would I be honored with a visibility award, but that I would be accepting it in front of a man who was not only my best friend, but my legally recognized husband and co-parent to two beautiful children, I would have assumed that someone had ingested a massive amount of psychotropic drugs.
His husband, Sonny Ward, and his two children were there to celebrate with him.
Chad Griffin, HRC's President, gave an enthusiastic and passionate talk about where HRC has come and where they still need to go. "We have a lot to celebrate. But there is still no Federal Law to protect LGBT members fully and equally under the law." He recounted stories of people evicted because they wouldn't renounce their sexual identity to their landlord, how other couples were fired from their jobs after posting their same sex wedding on Facebook.
"We can't confuse victory with progress," he said. He talked about other problems still for LGBT community members as in many states where they can't marry, can be barred from seeing dying partners in the hospital, can be fired or evicted for no reason. "We succeed when everyone is treated with justice and fairness fully and equally under a Federal law."
Maria Carey closed the event in her extraordinary bring-the-house-down style with the song "Hero."
I was seated next to young star, Bex Taylor-Klaus. At 20 years old, this young actress has already been a guest star on several TV series, and had a break out role playing the scrappy homeless lesbian teen, Bullet, in AMC's series The Killing. t was thrilling to know she was heading into a creative world where the character choices she will have will be more diversified than ever, and how people like the honorees of this evening and HRC have worked hard for so many years to merely make that simple fact normal.