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Thoughts On The HRC/Logo Presidential Forum On-Hand Audience

Those in power are totally divorced from those in peril.

–Mark Shields, speaking before political cartoonists on July 6, 2007

Mark Shields was talking about how the U.S. Congress being totally out of touch with military servicemembers when they voted to authorize President George W. Bush to have the U.S. military invade Iraq.  Only one congressman in a hundred Senators and four-hundred-thirty-five Congresspeople had a child serving in the military.  The men and women who authorized war were out of touch with those who would serve in the trenches.

The Shields’ quote; however, has broader meaning then Shields’ probably intended.  In general terms it can apply when those who make decisions aren’t the people who are most affected by the decisions, or even just aren’t in touch with those who are most affected by the decisions.

When I looked at the on-hand audience at the HRC/Logo Presidential Forum, I didn’t see the broad range of people I know are in the LGBT community. PlanetOut described the on-hand audience:

A few impressions of this political star-fest in Hollywood, where celebrity sightings usually involve klieg lights and movie premieres.

Under blue lighting that gave the Logo/HRC presidential forum studio something of a cool club ambience, celebrities of a different stripe kissed and hugged and buzzed with the excitement in the air.

Actors chatted with politicos and kingmakers. Who was that gabbing between Wilson Cruz and Darryl Stephens? Andrew Tobias, Democratic National Committee treasurer and, not so long ago, the anonymous author of “The Best Little Boy in the World, which told the stories of a generation of gay men who had to find themselves in silence.

Like all of us present, Andy must have felt he was witnessing a miracle.

Elsewhere, former Human Rights Campaign president Elizabeth Birch mingled with radio personality Tammy Bruce; Shelley Morrison, the redoubtable Rosario of “Will & Grace” and one of the LGBT community’s staunchest Hollywood supporters, beamed from the fifth row.

Trans heroine Calpernia Addams got a shout-out from LOGO president Brian Graden, as did Susan Stanton, the Largo, Fla., city manager official fired over her transgender status. In the front row was Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, grave and attentive; in the bleachers opposite were gay comics Jane Lynch and Alec Mapa.

At the opening of the event, before the televised version started, Judy McGraff, chairman and CEO of MTV, thanked people for coming and said, “Our stations were all born in the beginning to serve the underserved. To me, Logo is the most visionary of all of them. Tonight’s forum is a giant leap forward at a moment that feels transforming. I’m so proud to be here.”

The audience didn’t include homeless LGBT youth John Edwards described:

And I might add just a few weeks ago I was the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, which is an extraordinary place, which I’m sure some people here are familiar with here in the Los Angeles community, where they are doing amazing, amazing work.

But there’s a message from my visit there that I think is really important for America to hear, which is I met a whole group of young people who were there because they were homeless, and they were homeless because they came out of the closet and told their parents the truth, and their parents kicked them out of the home.

And there they were — the only place — they were living on the street, had nowhere to go. Thank God for the LA Gay and Lesbian Center being there for them, and an extraordinary woman who runs the center. But without that place, where would these young people go?

And it just can’t be that in America people think that’s OK. They can’t believe that’s OK. And they need to hear and see exactly what I saw when I was there, because it was moving. It was touching, and I actually believe that that kind of experience would have a huge impact on the American people if they could just see.

If I were the person who was in charge of the debate, those LGBT homeless youth are exactly the people I would want to make visible to the presidential candidates, right at the debate.  I would also want to put gay couples, lesbian couples, and couples with a transsexual partner — where one partner of these LGBT couples isn’t a U.S. Citizen — in the front row.  This would be so that the candidates could see couples where the U.S. Citizen can’t sponsor their partner for U.S. residency based on their relationship.  And also still, I would have people in the audience who were fired for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender as backdrops for the candidates to be asked how hard they are going to fight for a fully inclusive ENDA.

Instead, the backdrop audience was “Actors [chatting] with politicos and kingmakers.”  I’m not sure the choice of oh-hand audience was a “wrong” thing as much as a missed opportunity to show the diversity of the LGBT community (i.e. racial diversity, socioeconomic diversity, etc.), as well as to show that the HRC isn’t a civil rights organization focusing only on celebrities and elites.

I’ll end with the quote I began with, saying if nothing else, the HRC/Logo Presidential Forum gave the appearance that with regards to the audience:

Those in power are totally divorced from those in peril.


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Autumn Sandeen

Autumn Sandeen

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