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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
April 14, 2006

Politics reign at HRC's Cleveland dinner

Cleveland--�We�re going to bring as many [volunteers] as possible to Ohio to throw out Mike DeWine, who has turned his back on Ohio and families everywhere through his support of the [federal marriage ban] amendment and elect Sherrod Brown,� promised Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese to a roaring crowd of 602 at the Human Rights Campaign Cleveland Gala Dinner and Dance.

Reminders of the 2006 state election were everywhere in the Intercontinental Hotel�s ballroom on April 9. Every presentation and speech at the 13th annual dinner was political. Twenty-four elected officials and candidates came to help raise money to advance LGBT equality.

Senator DeWine, the expected Republican nominee for re-election to his Senate seat, announced last week that he was becoming a co-sponsor of the federal marriage ban amendment.

�Ohio, we will stand with you and continue to be your partner,� said Solmonese of the commitment HRC is making to Ohio in 2006.

And it was clear who HRC was supporting in the top slots.

Solmonese called Brown, who is currently a Democratic member of the House, �a good man.�

�My grandmother used to say a good man is someone who if you look into his soul, you see goodness,� said Solmonese. �I know Sherrod Brown, and he is a good man.�

Brown favors marriage equality over the amendment. He attended the affair, as did Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Lee Fisher.

Solmonese praised Fisher and his running mate Ted Strickland for standing with Equality Ohio against pastors Rod Parsley and Russell Johnson, both anti-gay theocrats backing the candidacy of Strickland�s likely opponent, Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.

Solmonese celebrated a year at HRC�s helm on April 11. He spoke about organizing the way the churches do--reaching people where they congregate.

�It�s more about congregation than scripture,� said Solmonese, who outlined new HRC initiatives reaching people where they gather in historically black colleges, and in hospitals.

Solmonese spoke about the adoption and foster parenting ban bill that was proposed in the Ohio House this year. HRC partnered with Equality Ohio to produce a poll showing most Ohioans oppose it.

�Then a funny thing happened,� said Solmonese, �House Speaker Jon Husted, a conservative Republican but who is himself adopted, spoke out against it.�

�That would not have happened without you all telling your stories where people congregate,� Solmonese said. �By reaching people where they congregate, we are causing a slow and steady ripple of change.�

�But we can�t think someone else is going to carry our water or do our work,� said Solmonese. �The pendulum is swinging back. They know it and we know it. Just read the newspapers.�

Solmonese warned that the anti-gays� �attacks on our families will get more severe and more ridiculous the closer we get to November.�

Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich attended as did his primary opponent Barbara Ferris.

State elected officials attending were senators Eric Fingerhut and Dale Miller, both Cleveland area Democrats, and state Rep. Chris Redfern, who is also the Ohio Democratic Party chair.

Candidates for state House seats who participated were Armond Budish and Julian Rogers, both Democrats hoping to represent east side suburban districts.

Ohio Secretary of State candidate Jennifer Brunner, also a Democrat, joined the fundraising effort.

Rory Cahn delivered the pitch for Federal Club memberships by pointing out that the budgets of anti-gay enterprises throughout the country exceeds $250 million per year, while LGBT advocacy groups are lucky to reach $50 million.

�That�s a $250 million gun pointed at our families,� said Cahn.

The Federal Club is HRC members who donate between $1,200 and $4,999 a year.

Gay comedian Bob Smith served as master of ceremonies, and musical entertainment was provided by the North Coast Men�s Chorus.

The Equality Award Recipient was Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, accepted by Rabbi Howard Ruben.

The Leadership Award was presented to Cleveland attorney David Posteraro.

Resolutions were presented from Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, Cuyahoga County Commissioners, and Senator Eric Fingerhut.

According to event co-chairs Eric Lozier and Kathy Crowley, an early tally shows that the event raised around $122,000. Of this, $70,000 came from ticket sales, $25,000 from the silent auction, $26,000 from corporate sponsors and $2,000 from program advertising.

Forty-five free tickets were given to students, which, according to Crowley, enabled participation by the Cleveland LGBT Center�s youth program, gay-straight alliances from Baldwin Wallace and Case Western Reserve University, and students from the University of Akron, Cuyahoga Community College, and the Case law school.

Keynote speaker Judy Shepard, mother of slain Laramie, Wyoming gay man Matthew Shepard, continued Solmonese�s theme of LGBT people teling the stories of their lives.

�In some areas of the country,� said Shepard, �when people think of gay people, they think Village People.�

�People see the first couple of rows of the gay pride parade, but not the boring end,� Shepard continued.

Shepard also talked about the importance of unity among the LGBT community.

�No one will support splinters,� she said. �Splinters have to be united into bundles in order to be embraced.�

The Cleveland chapter of Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays presented Shepard with $500 to benefit the Matthew Shepard Foundation she heads.

Rounding out the list of politicians present were judges and judicial candidates Mary J. Boyle, Carolyn Friedland, Stuart Friedman, Jeffrey Hastings, Ann Mannen, Bridget McCafferty, Edele Passalacqua and Shirley Strickland Saffold.

Longtime LGBT ally on Cleveland city council Jay Westbrook was joined by Cleveland�s first gay council member Joe Santiago and Cleveland Heights� first gay council member, Mark Tumeo.

Two Lorain County communities were represented. Avon council president Gregory Zilka and Oberlin council member Eve Sandberg attended their first HRC event.

Perhaps the loudest cheering of the evening occurred during the presentation of HRC�s national sponsors when the nation of Canada�s video clip ran, reminding American LGBT people both what is possible and what is at stake.

Canada�s 1984 Charter of Rights and Freedoms ensures that �all Canadians� enjoy equal protection under the law. This, and the lack of religious-right influence has made it one of four nations in the world to allow gays and lesbians to marry, and led to laws unequivocally protecting LGBT families and children in public schools.

The sentiment that there is work to be done has slowly transformed HRC in recent years. Though tickets still cost $175, the Cleveland dinner has shed some of its pretense.

It is no longer a �black tie only� event, and camera-bearers are no longer told �You can�t take my picture� by people with community stature.

HRC�s message has become more humble, less self-promoting, and more about confronting the challenges faced by LGBT people.

Solmonese is humble about that, too.

�HRC�s mission has evolved over the years,� Solmonese said.

Solmonese said the budget has not yet been set, but Ohio will be �one of if not the top priority� for HRC in the 2006 election.

�We are going to be victorious to the degree that we can organize the urban settings and turn out the vote,� Solmonese said. �The stakes are high here. Our community in Ohio, more than any other, has the chance to chart the course of our country for a generation.�

�My hope is that the event energized people to become more involved in this year�s election cycle and that they understand a little bit more about how our actions over the next 200 days [until November�s elections] can help make Ohio a more inclusive and welcoming state for the LGBT community,� said Crowley before thanking the dinner committee and volunteers.

Next year�s event will be held April 7, again at the Intercontinental Hotel.

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