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Columbus--It’s been a quarter century since the Human Rights Campaign had its first annual fundraiser with 100 people in the reception room of the Americana apartments. They raised $6,000 that year. Since then, the Columbus HRC dinner has grown each year, leading to the June 21 event with over 1,000 donors paying up to $175 each to fill the Hyatt Regency ballroom.
Gov. Ted Strickland and Sen. Sherrod Brown led the roster of speakers, which also included HRC president Joe Solomonese and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sibelius, whose name is rumored to be on Sen. Barack Obama’s vice-presidential list.
Last year, Strickland became the first sitting Ohio governor to address the HRC audience. He returned this year to speak about why this year’s election is so important, especially to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
“This movement has come of age,” Strickland said, praising the work of HRC and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community towards greater equality.
The governor kept his remarks brief, noting that he wanted “this state to be welcoming to all.”
Solmonese noted the city’s importance to HRC’s accomplishments.
“Columbus is where so much of our important work started many years ago,” Solmonese said.
“Last August we had the first [LGBT] televised forum for presidential candidates,” he added. “While that was great for HRC,” he added, “it was so much more important for what that meant to young people all across America.”
Solomonese spoke about pssing a hate crime bill in the U.S. House and Senate “thanks to courageous people like Sherrod Brown and George Voinovich.” He castigated President Bush “who continues to stand by his veto threat of hate crime bills.” Most of all, he celebrated the May ruling by the California Supreme Court to grant full marriage equality to LGBT people.
“We are on Capitol Hill every day,” Solmonese went on. “Reaching full equality has to do with what will happen in the coming months.” He compared John McCain and Barack Obama’s attitudes towards LGBT citizens.
“HRC will put it all on the line to make sure that Barack Obama is the country’s next president,” he concluded.
Governor Sibelius began by tracing her Ohio roots. “I was born and raised in Cincinnati,” she began, “and was married in the governor’s mansion.” She is the daughter of former Ohio governor John Gilligan.
“Our message of hope and love over hate and division is so incredibly important,” she said, “and the bully pulpit of the governor is so important.”
“Unfortunately, we are the home of the Phelps family,” she said, referring to traveling anti-gay picketer Fred Phelps. “I want to tell you that that is not all of Kansas. Our message is of inclusion.” Sibelius went on to tout how Kansas had just passed an anti-bullying statute where such perpetrators would “not only get pulled up but can be arrested.”
She also endorsed Obama for president. “This is the year we can have a transformation in the White House.”
Marine Staff Sergeant Eric Alva, who came out after serving in the Marine Corps for 13 years, was the evening’s special guest. Alva was the first person wounded in the current war in Iraq. On March 21, 2003 he stepped on a land mine, “after being in Iraq all of three hours.”
Alva urged people to join HRC’s Federal Club, whose members donate between $1,200 and $4,999 a year.
He concluded by saying that, “I’m a gay man who survived a war, a battle, only to come home to fight the battle for equality.”
The 2007 Equality Award was given to Columbus apparel giant Abercrombie & Fitch. They were rewarded for their forward thinking on equality in the workplace and for their support of LGBT causes locally and elsewhere.
The evening also featured live and silent auctions. After dinner entertainment included comedian Bruce Vilanch and singer Martha Wash.
This year’s dinner was co-chaired by Molly Levin and Ryan Fournier.