In perhaps the most star-studded gay rights benefit in many years, the Human Rights Campaign on Saturday honored the work of Barbra Streisand, out producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, and Latina/o AIDS/HIV services organization Bienestar. The annual Los Angeles dinner raised a record amount of money for HRC, the organizers announced, including more than half a million dollars pledged from the floor during the event itself, funds to be dedicated to HRC's battle against President Bush's antigay Federal Marriage Amendment.
The evening also marked the Los Angeles debut of former Massachusetts state senator Cheryl Jacques as president and executive director of HRC. "Imagine," she said in her fiery address against accepting civil unions in place of full marriage equality, "if Rosa Parks had just settled for the middle of the bus."
Streisand received the organization's humanitarian award, presented to her in person by John Travolta. In expressing his affection for Streisand, Travolta mused about how he had wanted to play her role in Funny Girl when he was a boy and how if Streisand were in London and needed help picking out a pair of shoes, he would fly from Los Angeles to help her. A film-clip tribute to Streisand was introduced on videotape by Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).
On accepting the award, Streisand delivered a searing speech condemning the Federal Marriage Amendment and President Bush. "How can anyone legislate who you love?" she asked. "Because that is a human right, the right to love and be loved."
"The law cannot dictate matters of the heart," she continued. "The soul has no gender."
Liza Minnelli appeared, having flown from her home in New York in order to present HRC's corporate award to Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, the openly gay producers behind ABC's gay-inclusive sitcom It's All Relative; last year's Oscar-winning Best Picture Chicago; TV musicals Gypsy, Annie, and Cinderella; fact-based miniseries The Reagans (in which Streisand's husband starred as Ronald Reagan) and My Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows; as well as two groundbreaking TV films the duo coproduced with Streisand, Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story and What Makes a Family, a real-life lesbian child-custody story that starred Brooke Shields and Cherry Jones--among many other accomplishments in their remarkable careers.
Minnelli introduced a video tribute to Zadan and Meron's work, which ended with a clip from My Life With Judy Garland in which actress Judy Davis portrayed Minnelli's mother, Garland. The final scene--Davis recreating Garland's emotional Carnegie Hall stage performance of "Over the Rainbow"--appeared to move Minnelli, as she watched from the podium. The actress thanked both Zadan and Meron and her sister, Lorna Luft, who wrote the memoir on which the miniseries was based.
In his speech, Zadan spoke forcefully against the increase in censorship in the American media. After CBS caved in to right-wing protests against The Reagans and canceled plans to air the film as a miniseries--shifting it to pay-cable network Showtime, which broadcast it as a three-hour movie--Zadan said he believed if Serving in Silence had been made today, no broadcast network would dare show it.
Many members of the cast of Zadan and Meron's successful sitcom about the culture clash between a gay-led family and a straight-led family, It's All Relative, were present for the dinner, including out star John Benjamin Hickey, Harriet Harris, Paige Moss, and Advocate cover boy Christopher Sieber, who attended with his longtime partner, fellow Advocate cover boy Kevin Burrows. The couple met while both performing in Disney's Beauty and the Beast on Broadway--yet one more connection to live theater, where Zadan and Meron began their careers.
Also present in the audience were Janet Jackson, Judith Light, Amazing Race winners and ex-husbands Reichen Lehmkuhl and Chip Arndt, David Hyde Pierce, Victor Garber, Wilson Cruz, Tyne Daly, and many other stars, plus openly gay Hollywood heavyweights such as Bruce Cohen, Max Mutchnick, and Jan Oxenberg.
Dan Mathews, the openly gay director of campaigns and vice president for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, was also in attendance. The activist took advantage of sitting just a few tables away from Minnelli to get the star to promise not to wear real furs again in the future. Her recent relapse to the wearing of animal pelts she blamed on her ex-husband David Gest, Mathews said.
"It was David Gest," Minnelli reportedly said. "I prefer fake, but he insisted I put on the real thing. He was horrible. I'll only ever wear fake from now on." Later, Minnelli asked Mathews and his partner--both well over six feet tall--to escort her from the ballroom and protect her from the crowds.
A special tribute was also paid to longtime activists and newlyweds Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, together for 51 years and the first same-sex couple married in San Francisco on February 12. "Get married!" Lyon said to everyone in the audience, after accepting a special silver tray created to mark the women's marriage. "While you can!"
The program also included a heartfelt tribute to Bienestar, a live auction that prompted an appearance by Queer Eye for the Straight Guy stars Carson Kressley and Kyan Douglas, and a keynote address by U.S. representative Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who earned applause for his opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment and boos for his announced support for Bush in the presidential campaign. The evening was bookended by performances from the Broadway musical Hairspray featuring the touring company, including Advocate columnist and comedy writer Bruce Vilanch as plus-size mother Edna Turnblad.