By Steven M. Housman
The Main Event
On March 6, The Human Rights Campaign gave their annual gala in Los Angeles. The evening was spectacular and went off without a hitch. It began with a rousing performance by Bruce Vilanch and Carly Jibson performing a number from Hairspray. They are currently on a national tour with the company, and will arrive in Los Angeles this July.
The first speakers of the evening were event co-chairs Catherine Houser and Alan Uphold. The gave inspirational speeches regarding the evenings cause and acknowledged their thanks to all of the supporters.
Following the wonderful speech by HRC President Cheryl Jacques, Republican Representative Christopher Shays took the podium to many hisses and boo's. I found it rude when a few people were screaming while he was trying to speak. He was invited, and I thought it was only considerate to hear him out. I personally did not acknowledge the man with praise, but I did let him speak without interruption, as did several others. He finally had most of the audience when he said, "I have several Gay friends and would like to grant equal rights to all," and then turned around and ended his speech with his undying support for George W. Bush in November. His entire speech was wiped out by his hypocritical summarization. It left the audience bewildered.
Longtime lesbian activists Phyllis Lyon, 79, and Del Martin, 83, who have been a couple for 51 years and were the first couple to be married in San Francisco a few weeks ago, took the stage and gave a wonderfully moving, and at times humorous, speech about how far things have come and how far there still is to go.
After a brief documentary for the organization Bienestar, the Community Service Award was given to Executive Director and CEO Oscar de la O. Bienestar represents the Gay Latino/Latina community. Following Mr. De la Os moving speech, the screen starting flashing film clips from the feature film Chicago, to the TV films Serving In Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story , What Makes A Family and the recent 2003 film, the controversial and CBS- banned The Reagans. Perhaps the most poignant moment came as the final clip was played, which featured actress Judy Davis as the legendary Judy Garland from the film Life With Judy Garland: Me And My Shadows. It showed Judy in her latter years sitting on stage in her hobo attire singing an emotional and stirring rendition of Over The Rainbow. The ballroom fell silent and was still mesmerized by that image and that voice. Afterwards, Liza Minnellis vocals resonated throughout the ballroom. New York, New York was ringing out throughout the room via audio tape. The fabulous diva approached the podium and professed her love for Over The Rainbow, and expressed her gratitude in her all-too-human voice by saying, I have a feeling you feel the same way. Liza was there to present the Corporate Award to producers Craig Zadan & Neil Meron. After a few wonderful and surprising words from Minnelli, (Craig and Neil and I are working on a new musical together) she introduced the duo of Storyline Entertainment and they presented a wonderful speech and expressed their gratitude and delight to be sharing the night with Barbra Streisand.
A video montage began of key lines from some of Barbra Streisands films that had to do with the evening's cause. It wasn't a video montage to showcase her talent, e.g., The AFI or Golden Globes. She purposely steered clear of that. The film clips included lines such as "People are their principles," from The Way We Were, "I'm not just a picture in your heads," "Do you all get it?" from Nuts. And after several clips of her from various fundraisers e.g., singing the alternate version of "The Way We Were" lovely Democratic memories, of the way we were... the boycott on Colorado, etc., all the while "Somewhere" (with its appropriate lyrics) was playing in the background, interspersed with comments by Dick Gephardt (several times) and Margarethe Cammermeyer. In true Streisand style, the seriousness was broken for a second when they played the comedic clip "Was it something I said?" from What's Up, Doc?" It was classic! After "Somewhere" played, "You'll Never Walk Alone" (2002 version) played until it came back to "Somewhere" and culminated in her famous ride past the Statue of Liberty from Funny Girl and right into the finale of Yentl in her search for a better life in the land of the free and home of the brave. It was very moving.
Hillary Clinton made an appearance via video clip. She expressed how proud she was of Barbra, not only for her convictions, but also for actually acting on them and making herself as vocal as she possibly could.
Following Senator Clinton, John Travolta came on stage to add a touch of humor with his recollection of first knowing Barbra through her work in the film Funny Girl. He said, as a 15-year old, I was in a production of the play Funny Girl and I wanted the Barbra part of Fanny Brice (to much laughter), but instead "got stuck in the Omar Sharif part of Nick Arnstein where I had to put on my best Egyptian accent. The part of Fanny went to this Jewish girl, and even though it made sense, I wanted Barbra's part. It was a better part!" People were howling with laughter. It was very cute when he improvised a line from "You Are Woman, I Am Man" and did a little of Barbra's part, flailing fingers and all. It got quite a rise out of the audience. He also said, "If Barbra were in Paris and needed me to help her pick out a pair of shoes, I'd get on my plane and be there for her. Not that she'd need my help with a pair of shoes!" His sentiment was that she was not only a great humanitarian, but she was a great friend as well. It was very touching. Unfortunately, he did not bring up anything at all to do with gay issues. As a matter of fact, he was the only speaker who took the podium that didn't have something to say about the evening's cause. Many of us thought it was a bit neglectful. But, Barbra wanted him to introduce her, so the HRC complied.
When Barbra finally took the podium, there was thunderous applause and a standing ovation that lasted a few minutes. Of course, before she spoke a word, people focused in on her larger than life image on the four screens, two on each side of the stage. The funny thing about Barbra is when she opened her mouth to speak about her strong convictions that concern equality and justice for all, you were completely wrapped up in her voice. Not because she was a living legend, but because she just knows how to get right in there and bring you into her world. She spoke so eloquently and with such fury. It reminded me of when I first saw her in Funny Girl and I wondered who the unattractive gawky girl was. After she opened her mouth to sing, she was no longer gawky, she was beautiful. That's exactly the feeling I had after she spoke her first words that night. She opened her speech by saying, I have been fortunate to receive a few awards in my lifetime, and I always appreciate them, but I must say that this is a very special one because the gay community has supported me from the very beginning. I know that this is a challenging moment in your history. So I am very proud to accept this award from the Human Rights Campaign at this time. You are on the frontlines in the struggle for equal rights, even as continued prejudice stands in the way. She continued, The law cannot dictate matters of the heart. When two people form a deep bond, there is usually a soul connection, and the soul has no gender. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are fundamental rights in this country. Happiness can be many things - a good meal, a good friend, a warm puppy, and certainly...love. How can anyone legislate who you can love? That is a human right, the right to love and be loved. And when you love someone, whether you're in a heterosexual or same-gender relationship, shouldn't you be able to visit them in the hospital when they're sick or dying? Shouldn't everyone have the right to enter into a loving, legally binding, committed relationship that takes on special responsibilities and obligations?
She was mesmerizing the crowd and had every one in the palm of her hand. That's how amazingly gifted this woman is. The articulation she has in one finger outweighs anything Bush has in his entire being. It only made you wish she would run for office. She is tireless and relentless and just won't give up. When people started chanting, "No More Bush, No More Bush," she responded loud and clear "NO WAY, NO WAY." She was astounding and penetrated your soul to the very core. She summarized the 30-minute speech by saying, I am proud to stand with you tonight as the recipient of this prestigious award. Together we can and we will win the fight.
The message Barbra was sending will live on in me forever, as I presume it will in many others. The bottom line is that Barbra gives a damn, and her voice was heard by all of the 1700 + guests that evening.
As Marilyn & Alan Bergman wrote in their tribute to Barbra, If she only raised her glorious voice in song, it would be enough. But when she raises her clear, impassioned voice in protest or praise, it's even more glorious. We love you Barbra.
I got an email the following day from somebody who read my previous article on the HRC. He wanted to know if Barbra mentioned her son Jason. Jason was there at her table. The only time he was mentioned was by John Travolta, when he said "Barbra was a wonderful mother to her son Jason." The others at her table were her husband, actor James Brolin, her longtime manager Marty Erlichman, her Public Relations representative and friend Dick Guttman, designer and friend Donna Karan, old boyfriend Richard Baskin and songwriters and dear friends Marilyn & Alan Bergman.
The Human Rights Campaign raised $600,000.00 from the donation cards on the tables that evening, and $800,000.00 in ticket and corporate sales. It was a major success. Congratulations to all who helped put the event together and to all of the supporters.
Once again, thank you Barbra for your support. You have never disappointed me in my 36-year "relationship" with you! You have the "One Voice" we can all count on.
© 2004 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.