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June 22, 2007

Strickland is first governor to speak at HRC dinner

Columbus--Twenty-four years ago, the first Columbus Human Rights Campaign dinner was held in the reception room of the Americana apartments with 100 guests raising a then-phenomenal  $6,000. Since then, the HRC dinner in Columbus has become bigger with every ensuing year.

This year’s dinner raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, with over 600 people in the Hyatt Regency ballroom--including Gov. Ted Strickland.

Strickland is the first sitting Ohio governor to attend and address the dinner. He was strongly supported in his election last November by the LGBT community. Last month he signed an executive order protecting state employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The action reestablished protections that had been in place until former governor Bob Taft eliminated them in 1999.

In addition to Strickland, speakers at the June 16 event included Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and HRC President Joe Solmonese.

Solmonese urged the audience to “celebrate your role in changing America last year,” referring to the election victories Strickland, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and Attorney General Mark Dann. He also praised the work being done by Equality Ohio and its head, Lynne Bowman.

“We are incredibly grateful to your governor for passing the executive order and for appointing Mary Jo Hudson to his administration,” Solomonese said.

“Compare that with what Ken Blackwell would have done,” he added to loud boos and hisses from the audience who still revile the former secretary of state who ran unsuccessfully for governor. Blackwell was heavily opposed by the LGBT community for his overtly homophobic positions.

Solomonese said that in the last election, HRC “spent quite a bit of its political budget in Ohio,” and “we’re incredibly proud of that investment.” He also listed some recent strides towards LGBT equality including the defeat of a proposed constitutional amendment to end gay marriage in Massachusetts and the passage of a “free-standing hate-crimes bill in the [U.S.] House of Representatives.”

Columbus corporations, including Nationwide Insurance, Limited Brands and Abercrombie and Fitch were praised by Solomonese not only for their inclusiveness in Ohio but also for setting the standard nationally for other corporations to treat LGBT employees with complete equality.

He also struck a note of caution, warning that President Bush has threatened to veto the hate crime bill if it passes the Senate.

“If he does, we will very shortly have a president who will sign the bill,” Solomonese concluded to loud applause.

He noted that Bush has a current approval rating of 29% while Richard Nixon was at 31% on the day he resigned in the Watergate scandal.

“I feel like we are battle-tested warriors,” Solomonese said, “and in battles we did not choose but battles which have made us stronger.” He ended his speech noting “the collective power that is moving our country forward at lightning speed.”

Mary Jo Hudson began her introductions for Coleman and Strickland by saying “What a great evening for Columbus and Ohio this is.” She also noted that she was proud to work for Strickland.

Coleman said that he had been to the HRC dinner many times but was pleased that it was “the first time with a sitting governor of the state of Ohio.”

“I have watched the city change and grow and mature and our diversity is making it stronger,” he said.

While praising Strickland’s executive order protecting LGBT state employees, Coleman teased the governor that “his executive order is the law in the city of Columbus,” because the city has an ordinance on the books while the order can be rescinded by a future governor.

“Equality is so important for all of us,” Coleman told the audience. “The reason that this is a 21st-century city is because of you.”

Strickland was received with a standing ovation.

“Ohio must open its arms to all its citizens,” he began. “We must fight towards the end of discrimination.”

Of the order, he said, “It has been said that it took courage . . . Let me tell you. It was one of the easiest things I have had to do.”

He also thanked many of Ohio’s corporate leaders for paving the way not only for other businesses to follow suit, but also for government to create a more open and accepting environment for its LGBT employees and citizens.

Throughout his speech Strickland chastised “a discrimination that is holding us back.”

“I oppose putting discrimination into the constitution,” he said referring to the 2004 passage of Ohio’s marriage ban amendment.

“I also oppose that at the federal level,” he added. “We have right on our side. Love is stronger than hate. Courage is desirable and more powerful than fear.”

“I want to make a pledge to you. We will look for ways to change Ohio to be a better place, a more tolerant place. We will never reach our full potential or economic zenith until we realize that a state that is open and tolerant and equal is a state that will grow and thrive,” he concluded. “Those of you who have found love, hold onto that as a precious possession and may we never deprive another’s experience to find love.”

He also said, “Thanks to the community for sharing Mary Jo Hudson with me.”

The 2007 Equality Award was given to life and business partners Karla Rothan and Linda Schuler. Both were praised for dedicating their lives to improving the LGBT and greater Columbus communities. Their work for Stonewall Columbus and the Pride festivals over the year was also cited as reason for being awarded this prestigious honor.

As in the past, the evening featured live and silent auctions adding to revenues raised towards HRC’s work in Washington D.C. and across the nation towards greater equality.

After the dinner the inimitable Jennifer Holliday, who is a great ally of the LGBT community, treated the audience to special entertainment. Holiday came to fame in the 1980s for her groundbreaking role as Effie White in the Broadway musical Dreamgirls.

This year’s dinner, titled Equality Unmasked, was co-chaired by Molly Levin, Rob Pettit and Chris Stenger.




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