Human Rights Campaign (HRC) set an attendance record Nov. 16 for its 2013 Chicago gala. About 900 people gathered for the reception, dinner and silent auction at the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park.
Among those in attendance were Gov. Pat Quinn, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, State Comptroller Judy Barr Topinka, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly. State representatives and senators were also in attendance, including lead marriage bill sponsors Rep. Greg Harris and Sen. Heather Steans, and lead co-sponsor in the House, Rep. Ken Dunkin.
Much of the evening's programming revolved around the Illinois legislature's passage of same-sex marriage, and guests heard from politicians and activists, among others, who worked to make marriage equality a reality for many people in the United States.
Californians Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, who, in 2009, who were part of a lawsuit challenging Proposition 8a suit ultimately leading to the U.S. Supreme Court, which sent it back to the pro-marriage equality decision in a lower courtspoke of how integral marriage quality was for same-sex couples with children and how much Illinoisans had to look forward to when marriage equality finally arrives in the Land of Lincoln.
"The power of choice is life-changing," said Perry. "The power of choice is undeniable. Living in a state that supports equality enhances everyone's livesand Illinois, you are on the cusp of equality after a long, hard battle."
Craig Stowell, a Marine veteran who spearheaded an online marriage equality initiative in New Hampshire, largely on behalf of his brother, Calvin, who is gay, said, "Before this started, I had never even written so much as a letter to the editor. For me getting involved was a no brainer."
"I am also a Republican," he added. "That means I believe government should not be taking rights away from our friends, families and coworkers."
Gov. Quinn was later awarded HRC's Leadership for Equality Award.
"There were setbacks along the way, but we never quit," Quinn said in his acceptance speech, adding that when communities band together for common causes, "there's no more powerful force on this earth."
He looked ahead to Nov. 20, the day he will sign legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, and noted that that day came just a day after the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. He relished the fact that Illinois would be the 16th state to sign marriage into law so close to a day associated with the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.
Linda Johnson Rice, chairman of Johnson Publishing Co., received the Ally for Equality Award (presented by Desiree Rogers) and Rev. Dr. B. Herbert Martin, of the Progressive Community Center and The People's Church, received the Community Equality Award (presented by HRC's MacArthur Flournoy). Rep. Harris presented the Corporate Equality Award to Groupon, who was represented by Brian Schipper, senior vice president, human resources.
HRC supporters and officials gave a broad overview of the organization's plans in upcoming years. Gala Co-Chair Sam Abeysekera said LGBT rights could essentially be springboards to achieving equality for other communities that are still struggling.
"The LGBT movement crosses every echelon of society," Abeysekera said. "Through the LGBT movement, we can realize that intolerance for one is intolerance for all." Her cochair was Marisa McCabe.
Marty Rouse, HRC's national field director, said during his remarks that the organization hopes to help bring about marriage equality in all 50 states within the next 5 years. Following the presentation, he explained that that goal would hopefully come about through a combination of popular and judicial strategies. Rouse spoke in place of HRC's leader Chad Griffin, who was unable to attend.
"We're working on winning equality in as many states as we can," Rouse said. "Right now we're working in New Mexico, hoping to win in the courts (there). We're also working on marriage in Nevada and perhaps Arizona, Ohio, Michigan and Colorado for 2016. … Then, at that point, a court case will probably be ready at a federal level."
Politicians attending the event had no regrets over their support of marriage equality. Republican state Rep. Tom Cross, who was a surprise "yes" vote on SB10, said, "Like any vote, some people were happy with it, and some people were not. I'm very comfortable that I made the right decision."
Harris said he's been enjoying the excitement that's come in the wake of the SB10 passage.
"We're hearing the stories of families from all over the state who are so thrilled," he said. "I've heard from grandmas and grandpas who are thrilled for their grandsons and granddaughters. John and Char Cepek of Northern Illinois PFLAG drove all the way to Chicago just to give me a tin of home-baked cookies. It's been so wonderful. People are so happy, and I think across the state there's nothing but joy."
Photo spread by Kat Fitzgerald ( www.MysticImagesPhotography.com, ) at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/photospreadthumbs.php .
Photo spread by Hal Baim at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/photospreadthumbs.php .
Videos for Windy City Times by Tracy Baim:
HRC Chicago Gala 11-16-2013 Co-Chairs www.youtube.com/watch .
HRC Chicago gala 11-16-13: Sandy and Stier Kris Perry www.youtube.com/watch .
HRC Chicago gala 11-16-13: HRC National Field Director Marty Rouse www.youtube.com/watch .
Calvin and Craig Stowell at HRC Chicago gala 11-16-13 www.youtube.com/watch .
Linda Johnson Rice HRC award 11-16-13 in Chicago www.youtube.com/watch .
HRC Chicago award for Rev. B. Herbert Martin 11-16-13 www.youtube.com/watch .
Groupon award at HRC Chicago 11-16-13 www.youtube.com/watch .
Gov. Pat Quinn, State Rep. Greg Harris, Sen. Heather Steans at HRC 11-16-13 www.youtube.com/watch .