Meredith Baxter Keynotes Black Tie Dinner
Some nights have the power to change us. In Dallas, last Saturday was one of those nights. The Sheraton Dallas Hotel overflowed with handsome men, glittery gowns and must-have silent auction items on Nov. 3 for Affair of the Heart, Dallas' 31st Black Tie Dinner, an event that buzzed with the kind of excitement that only comes from committing to a cause with equal parts passion and fearlessness.
Lesbian actress and author of "Untied," Meredith Baxter was the keynote speaker for the annual event, with emcee Leslie Jordan presenting awards to JCPenney, Lucilo Peña and Chaz Bono. With 3,000 attendees, the sold-out event raised more than $1 million for the Human Rights Campaign, as well as 18 local charities.
HRC President Chad Griffin spoke about his remarkable experience going "from being a teenager working at Wal-Mart in Arkansas to fighting for equality in our nation's capital." Griffin brought as his guest a young woman who he met his first day as president.
She told Griffin she was unable to come out to her religious parents and asked him how he could help people like her: by settling for nothing less than equal rights for everyone, no exceptions.
"That's why we must all continue to fight the good fight, for young people like Alice," said Griffin. "We fight for the future they deserve to inherit. And the free and equal lives they deserve to lead."
Baxter sought for such freedom in her own life; when discovering she was a lesbian, she "could never have seen how transformative that revelation would have been. It took a lot of energy to hide secrets I never knew I had."
Joking about not wanting the neighbors or the press to know at the beginning that she was dating someone who "drove a truck," Baxter told EDGE "I would have stayed in the closet forever if I thought I could get away with it."
When Baxter asked her partner, Nancy Locke, to move the truck, her answer was short and sweet, "No." The two have been together for seven years now and Baxter said that now, "Nancy parks wherever she wants."
Baxter told EDGE that she knew that coming out had the power to do something nothing else could: reveal the truth. Her actions would speak more loudly than any words could to show that her being a lesbian didn't change the kind of person she was. "I'm not demonic. I'm not scary. I'm the same loving person," said Baxter.
But she blamed the government for being complicit in the prejudice against and the lack of equal treatment of the LGBT community.
"What is the everyday person supposed to think? My government doesn't like [gay people], so I won't either. We have to stand up. It's so important," said Baxter, adding that living honestly and openly offers the one thing everyone needs and deserves -- freedom.
Perhaps the most moving piece of her speech was when she spoke about how important gay marriage is. It's about "so much more than the right to marry," she said. "It's about dismantling government-approved discrimination."
Baxter went on to reminisce about playing a lesbian mom once in a film. "I won an Emmy. I'd like to go back and look at those scenes and wonder, was I really acting?" But making the audience laugh was not Baxter's only goal that night.
She spoke about the strides made in the military; in fighting against hate crimes; in gaining ground in the fight for marriage equality; and getting the first open lesbian in the Senate. And the crowd went wild when she mentioned President Barack Obama and the possibility of his serving four more years in the White House.
All of this progress, she said, was due to one thing. "Not one thing changed in America until we chose to be visible."
Emcee Leslie Jordan Presents Awards
Leslie Jordan stepped up as emcee, to present a number of awards throughout the evening to those who exemplify the best in moving forward. JCPenney won the Media Award (accepted by fashion designer Geoffrey Henning on behalf of the Plano-based retailer); Lucilo Peña won the Kuchling Humanitarian Award; and Chaz Bono took home the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award.
Bono spoke extensively about his journey from Chastity to Chaz, saying that he managed to get by when he was young, because he was so well behaved. But life began to get difficult once he was an adolescent.
"My earliest memory as far back as 5 or 6, I felt like I was a boy and a wished I was a boy," said Bono. "I felt like my body was literally betraying me becoming rounder and softer and smoother, everything I didn’t want to be. At that point I had never heard a thing about gender identity."
Bono figured he was a lesbian and did find some comfort in that community. Still, he said, "I was really trying to be someone I so wasn’t." Ultimately he couldn’t deny it any longer.
"I had a breakthrough and I realized I had to stop worrying about what everyone else was going to think of me," said Bono. "The expectations I had for my life were one-one hundredth of how profound and amazing my life has been."
Bono ended his speech with a plea for the transgender community, saying that the ’B’ and the ’T’ feel like the stepchildren placed at the baby table.
"Add a transgender group to your list of beneficiaries. I urge you to learn a little more about the T of the LGBT," said Bono.
Baxter Discusses Raid on Rainbow Lounge
Before the main event began, Edge Media Network had the chance to speak to Baxter for a few minutes about "Raid at the Rainbow Lounge," a compelling and revolutionary documentary from Robert L. Camina, which she narrated.
"Discovering what that story was about, it was so moving. They did such a good job of writing, capturing, and editing -- a stunning job," said Baxter. "I’ve talked to several people involved and said they have received such good feedback. People don’t know what happened."
What happened at the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth, Texas on June 28, 2009 (40 years to the day after the raid at the Stonewall Inn) is unfathomable, unconscionable and unforgivable. "Raid at the Rainbow Lounge" is an unflinching account of the night the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and Fort Worth Police stormed into the Lounge and with intolerance, inhumanity and rage, rounded up, arrested and assaulted patrons, leaving one man, Chad Gibson (26 at the time of the incident), hospitalized with a hairline skull fracture, a concussion and internal bleeding.
"Prejudice is born out of fear, a lack of education, a lack of experience, a lack of understanding," Baxter told Edge. We have a responsibility to do anything we can to change that. Most importantly, we have to be ourselves."
Chairs Chris Kouvelis and Mitzi Lemons welcomed the evening’s revelers and thanked the event’s major supporters. Top sponsors included Grey Goose (who hosted the "AfterBlack Dance Party" in the Grey Goose Lounge); American Airlines (who donated First Class/Business Class airfare for several auction packages); and Park Place Motors (who donated a 2013 Mercedes-Benz C-250 Coupe for the annual raffle). A bevy of inspiring speakers filled the program.
Over the years, the Black Tie Event has become a glitzy, see and be seen, weekend-long event with many attendees kicking things off Friday night at the "B4 Black Preview Party," hosted by Madison Hildebrand from Bravo’s "Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles."
The official total raised at the event will be announced at Dec. 13’s distribution party. Since 1981, Black Tie Dinner has donated more than $16 million to the North Texas LGBT community and is the largest contributor to the National Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
Visibility was Baxter’s ultimate war cry. "We have to make ourselves known. We have to be the kind, unscary, loving people that we are. Let’s take that responsibility and capture those hearts and minds."
Next year’s Black Tie Dinner festivities will be held on Nov 2, 2013. For more info, visit www.blacktie.org.