Washington, D.C.'s Walter E. Washington Convention Center was awash in glitz and glamour Saturday night, when the Human Rights Campaign -- the nation's largest LGBT organization -- hosted its annual National Dinner.
A sold-out crowd of over 3,400 guests -- the largest in the black-tie event's 17-year history -- celebrated a landmark year in the push for LGBT equality. Speakers including HRC President Chad Griffin (right) and trans advocate Sarah McBride ticked off the list of victories: President Obama's re-election; the defeat of DOMA and Proposition 8 at the Supreme Court; Tammy Baldwin's election as the first openly LGBT Senator; major trans rights milestones in Delaware and California; and marriage equality becoming law in Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Washington. Griffin recommitted HRC to its goal of bringing marriage equality to all 50 states in the next five years.
Vice President Joe Biden was scheduled to give the evening's keynote speech but was forced to cancel his appearance due to the government shutdown, so instead President Obama addressed the crowd in a video message. The President noted the victories of the previous year and reiterated his pledge to continue pushing forward on the path to full LGBT equality under the law, including pressuring Congress to pass ENDA.
Other speakers included Betty Hightower, an adorably sweet equality mom from Arkansas who introduced her son, HRC's Griffin; former NAACP chairman Dr. Julian Bond; the cast of ABC's The Fosters, a TV series featuring a family headed by two moms; and legendary feminist, journalist, and activist Gloria Steinem.
Entertainment superstar Jennifer Lopez, executive producer of The Fosters and an outspoken LGBT advocate, accepted HRC's Ally for Equality award. HRC outlined Lopez's long history of support for the LGBT community in a recent press release:
For years, Jennifer Lopez has been vocal about her love for the LGBT community, from her outspoken support for marriage equality, to the millions of dollars she's raised for HIV/AIDS research and her efforts on behalf of bullying and youth anti-violence causes. Currently Lopez serves as executive producer of ABC Family's hit TV series The Fosters, the #1 new cable TV series of the summer with millennials. The Fosters is a compelling, one-hour drama about a multi-ethnic family mix of foster and biological kids being raised by two moms. Lopez was on the receiving end of a boycott campaign from One Million Moms, a project of the radically anti-LGBT group American Family Association.
"Even facing pressure from anti-LGBT groups, Jennifer stands her ground as a strident equality supporter," added Griffin. "Throughout her career, Jennifer Lopez has always stood for fairness, justice and equality, and that's what being an ally is all about."
Scroll down to the end of the article for a brief exclusive video excerpt of Lopez's remarks.
In addition to Lopez, the other megastars of the evening were the teams that brought down DOMA and Proposition 8 at the Supreme Court: plaintiffs Kris Perry, Sandy Stier, Paul Katami, Jeff Zarrillo, and Edie Windsor; and attorneys David Boies, Ted Olson, and Roberta Kaplan. All were honored with HRC's 2013 National Equality Award, and all except Windsor were present Saturday evening. When the group entered the banquet hall along with Griffin and American Foundation for Equal Rights Executive Director Adam Umhoefer they received heroes' welcomes: cheers, raucous applause, and a standing ovation.
All seven National Equality Award honorees delivered remarks. Kaplan, who accepted the award for herself and on behalf of Windsor, said of the tiny heroine, "Our victory against DOMA never would've happened without a 5-foot tall, 84-year-old, less-than-100-pound lady by the name of Edie Windsor. Because of her courage no gay person will ever have to suffer from the indignity of DOMA ever again." The Proposition 8 plaintiffs talked about their experiences, and each promised to continue working hard for a world where every child and every person can be who they are and love who they love without fear or discrimination.
Olson and Boies -- who opposed each other in the Supreme Court's famous 2000 Bush v. Gore case that handed George W. Bush the presidency -- both described their work on the Proposition 8 case as a highlight of their professional careers. They spoke in an extremely gracious and heartfelt manner about the importance of marriage and the fundamental injustice of marriage discrimination, and thanked everyone in the room for working so hard to build a more equal future for the next generation and beyond. Boies's closing remarks brought the room to its feet: "God bless you," he said after thanking the crowd, "God bless America, and God bless the America we're becoming."
Exclusive Video and Photos
Below is an excerpt from Jennifer Lopez's remarks at the HRC National Dinner. Apologies for the video quality -- the press area was cramped and photographers were being jostled about, but I did my best.
HRC President Chad Griffin on the red carpet with mother Betty Hightower and stepfather Butch Hightower:
Teri Polo and Sherri Saum from ABC's The Fosters:
Chad Griffin and Jennifer Lopez:
Jennifer Lopez accepting the 2013 Ally for Equality Award:
Roberta Kaplan, Edie Windsor's attorney, accepting the National Equality Award:
The Proposition 8 plaintiffs accepting the National Equality Award. From L-R: Sandy Stier, Kris Perry, Jeff Zarrillo, and Paul Katami.
Attorney David Boies, co-counsel on the Proposition 8 challenge, accepting the National Equality Award:
Photos: John Becker / The Bilerico Project