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September 9, 2011

Rock and politics come together at HRC dinner

Cleveland--The 18th annual Human Rights Campaign gala dinner and auction brought politicians and rock stars together with the LGBT community in a unique way on August 27.

It was the second year in a row that the HRC’s Cleveland Steering Committee held the event at Cleveland State University’s Wolstein Center, which is also what engendered the event’s move to the end of summer. While it is traditionally held in spring, the first available Saturday on the Wolstein Center’s schedule was on August 27.

“We supplemented it this year with the Dare2Care event on May 1 that HRC co-sponsored,” said dinner co-chair Michael Smithson.

Chrissie Hynde, lead singer of the Pretenders rock band and an Akron restaurateur, was given the Ally for Equality award at the banquet. She is originally from Ohio, although the Pretenders were formed in England.

Cleveland Ward 3 councilor Joe Cimperman, who has championed and spearheaded much of the city’s pro-gay activity over the last few years, was given the Leadership Award, while Progressive Insurance received the Corporate Ally Award.

Instead of focusing on a single keynote speaker and giving out awards, this year instead saw the spotlight on the award recipients, as well as Sen. Sherrod Brown.

“Instead of having a keynote speak for 15 minutes, we broke it up this time,” Smithson said.

While final numbers for the evening are not yet available, Smithson estimated the crowd at 630 to 640 people, nearly a hundred more than last year. “Realistically, we probably had about seven extra tables this year,” he said.

At the regular ticket price of $175--some paid more, some less--that attendance would raise about $110,000, before the auction and expenses, for the Washington, D.C. LGBT lobby organization.

Smithson also noted that the evening was often quite emotional. “Several times throughout the evening, people were moved to emotion, even tears,” he said.

He pointed to a friend of his who was able to openly attend the event because of the end of the military’s gay ban.

“As you know, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was repealed, and a good friend of mine who sat at my table was able to come to the dinner in his uniform,” Smithson noted. “Sen. Sherrod Brown came over a couple of tables and shook his hand.”

His friend received an ovation for his service to his country.

“Truthfully, I think the evening went very, very well. We got a lot of great compliments, some great heartfelt talks and speeches from people,” Smithson posited.

He also said that next year’s event will be at the end of summer, like this year.

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