Updated with video, 1:30 p.m.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker, “Modern Family” star Jesse Tyler Ferguson and NAACP President Ben Jealous showed up at Saturday’s Human Rights Campaign dinner to talk about gay rights. Sally Field showed up to talk about her son.
Her youngest child, Sam Greisman, is openly gay, and the Oscar-winning actress wanted to thank the 3,000 men and women in the convention center for paving a smoother path for his life.
“Nature made Sam. It wasn’t a choice. He was always, always Sam — glorious, smart, funny, sweet Sam,” she told the audience. (See video, below) “You all have fought for him as surely as if you were one of his parents. You’ve changed and are changing the lives of little boys and girls who realize somewhere along the way they’re just different from their other brothers and sisters.” Then, the former Flying Nun dropped the f-bomb — to the audience’s surprise and delight — asking: So what if they are?
Field, 65, received HRC’s Ally for Equality award. She hasn’t talked much about her son’s sexuality (“It’s Sam’s business and not mine”), but the two are clearly close. He introduced her at the black-tie gala and shared what it’s like to have her for a mom: “In your face . . . like, all the time,” the 24-year-old said with a huge grin.
The past four years have been good for the gay community: the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” new hate-crime laws on the books. “With this president, we’ve made more progress than any time in history,” said Chad Griffin, HRC’s new president. “But we have a long, long distance to go.”
HRC is fighting to elect Democratic Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin — she would be the first openly gay woman in the Senate if she wins. Same-sex marriage is on the ballot next month in Maryland, Maine, Washington and Minnesota, and there’s the ongoing issue of the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies same-sex couples — even those married in states where it is legal — many benefits from the federal government.
This was a rich, powerful, savvy crowd, ponying up $400K during the 30-minute live auction to buy commercial time this month in key election states.
So Booker came onstage and delivered a stemwinder of a speech linking the fight for gay rights to the historic women’s and civil rights movements. “While the music might be a little bit better, while you all might be dressed a little bit fancier, this room right here has the same flourishing spirit that church basements had when they were planning and talking and plotting about the freedom of our people,” he told them. “We are the ones who must say, like the spirit of our ancestors, ‘I am black and I am here. I am Polish and I am here. I am Irish and I am here. I am Jewish and I am here. I am gay, I am transgender, I am queer and I am here. Get used to it.’ ”
Booker, who promised that New Jersey would legalize gay marriage, said he gets into conversations with friends who don’t understand why he keeps talking about the subject: “I say, ‘I’m not talking about gay rights. I’m talking about human rights. I’m talking about my rights. I’m talking about your rights.’ ”
Also on stage: a passionate Jealous, the NAACP president. The civil-rights group received HRC's National Equality Award for supporting same-sex marriage. He’s taken flak for the endorsement, but it’s a personal issue for Jealous: In 1966, his parents were forced to marry in D.C. because interracial marriage was banned in Maryland.
“In the more than four years that I’ve been president of the NAACP, I’ve made it very clear that in order to have friends, you’ve got to be a friend,” Jealous said. “As Dr. King once said to a teacher of mine, ‘If you’re comfortable in your coalition, your coalition is too small.’ ”
Sally Field at the HRC gala — we already warned you about the language, didn’t we?
From 2011’s gala: Human Rights Campaign dinner: President Obama, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mike Bloomberg, Greyson Chance (photos), 10/2/11
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