Sunday, October 23, 2005

"Imagine Tomorrow" -- The Dallas Black Tie Dinner, Part One

One of the perks of NDT's daily grindstone is that my company is an active supporter of Dallas's annual Black Tie Dinner, which is the largest sit-down dinner of its kind in the country in terms of both attendance and monies raised; as a result, one night a year, I get to pour myself into a tux, traipse off to downtown Dallas, and valet-park and drink on someone else's dollar.

Before we start off, I enjoy Black Tie; really, I do. There is something about formal wear that makes one stand taller, look proud, and walk a little more purposefully. My stand-in guest (the husbear had a prior commitment) from California was amazed that the people of Dallas, who she'd thought of as all being raving, homophobic lunatics, were turning out in record numbers (the dinner sold out, with tables of 10 going for $3,000 a pop), both gay AND straight. Finally, it is immensely empowering to be in a room with over 3,000 people who are willing to make that level of commitment to support gay rights and fighting the scourage of AIDS.

But a good half of the evening was wasted.....and worse, in a way that I hardly expected.

Part of it was completely predictable. Joe Solmonese came out and confirmed what the bulk of my sources have already told me, namely that his primary qualification to be HRC Executive Director was his inability to do anything BUT follow orders and repeat talking points. It was depressing to think that half of the $300 paid to put my butt in said hot, itchy chair was going to be under the control of this man, whose flat jokes about money laundering for political parties were particularly ironic, given his financial support of Democratic pushers of the FMA like Inez Tenenbaum and his organization's blowing millions of dollars to support Democratic candidates who supported stripping gays of rights. Fortunately, the combination of a cantankerous sound system and Solmonese's lack of oratorial skill kept the bulk of the audience far more interested in their seasonal greens with a poached pear, Brie cheese wedge, and cane sugar roasted pecans in a port wine viniagrette (along with raspberries, which are NDT's absolute biggest fruit weakness).

The unexpected part, though, was Lily Tomlin. When a Tony-winning comedienne has to stop halfway through and admit she sees a lot of stoic faces, you know there's a problem -- and in this case, it was her choice to begin her program with ten minutes of blaming the Bush administration, Republicans, and conservatives for everything wrong under the sun. The laughs were loud at first....but they quickly tapered off....and by minute number nine, the only people laughing were the hard-core DNC-bots and the Solmonese table.

Evidently Lily wasn't made aware of the fact that the Dallas chapter of the Federal Club, one of the most powerful ones within HRC, was also one of the loudest voices taking HRC to task for what several other Federal Club members recognized as a problem -- HRC's wild and blind partisanship impeding outreach to other potential allies. Last night in a room full of corporate leaders, businesspeople, and the relatively-wealthy -- among the most likely to vote and hold conservative and Republican sentiments -- was NOT the time to be demonizing both.

Given the talent that she is, Lily was able to catch her balance halfway through and refocus, the second half being a wild example of how wonderful her comedic gifts are, especially a howling takeoff on her famous Ernestine the Telephone Operator bit with Gore Vidal, using Tom DeLay as a stand-in, which I shall repeat later. However, the whole thing was an uncomfortable experience for the majority of the audience, and from what I could tell, for her as well.

However, we eternal optimists always believe in a white knight, and last night said knight did indeed arrive in white -- or at least a cream-colored tuxedo -- wearing size eight Manolo Blahnik rhinestone sandals.

Before yesterday, had you asked me about Sharon Stone, I would have mentioned Basic Instinct and "lesbian pin-up". The word "gay-rights activist" would have never entered my mind.

But after last night, three words. Oh. My. God.

She was brilliant. No, not just brilliant -- sublime. Her acceptance speech yesterday evening was powerful, short, and to the point. She spoke eloquently about her childhood, about the heroes on the Wheaties box that taught us the basics of human dignity -- how to tie your shoes and pull up your pants -- and how those led to tolerance and acceptance. Her voice rang out loud and clear as she talked about local heroes -- the people who did their job and to whom you could go with your problem and be safe -- and how we needed to strive to BE those for our community. Her stare burned through the audience as she told us the need for us to be the ones who picked up the paper cup blowing across the street, who let another person out in front of us in traffic, who put our shopping cart back where it belonged -- because those little acts could save a person's job, home, or even their life. People laughed, but as she said, her gorgeous features focused.....she wasn't kidding, this was important.

On the drive home, I realized something......the people who would later laugh at Ms. Tomlin's early remarks were the same ones who had laughed at Ms. Stone's. The same ones who had hung on Ms. Stone's every word weren't laughing later at Ms. Tomlin.

The reason is abundantly clear. Ms. Stone spoke the language of those who care about gay rights, regardless of their race, religion, party affiliation, ideology, or orientation and because they believe gay rights are human rights. She made it clear that we all have a stake in making our world a better place, and that in doing that, we will make it better for everyone.

Ms. Tomlin spoke the language of HRC, which seeks only to mock and hate those who aren't of the correct religion, party affiliation, ideology, or orientation, regardless of their actual stance on gay rights.

Fortunately in Dallas, there were many more of the former than the latter. I only hope the rest of the country soon follows suit.

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