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HRC Honors Whoopi Goldberg at New York Gala

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Thursday February 7, 2013

More than 900 guests gathered at Park Avenue's Waldorf Astoria hotel on the evening of Feb. 2 for the Human Rights Campaign's Make Equality Count Greater New York Gala Dinner.

HRC awarded the Ally for Equality Award to actress and long-time gay rights activist Whoopi Goldberg. Other highlights of the evening included appearances by Barbara Bush, Angelica Huston, Tim Gunn and Kristine W.

"I want to talk you all out of getting married," said Goldberg, conceding that after three failed marriages, she had given up on the institution. "You all have scared the shit out of legislators, because they realize that you are not playing. You are not taking this anymore, and I'm so glad to be part of this thing that's happening. I'm thrilled to be on this ride with you. The community is like a beacon of light, and we are all better for it."

Actor Tim Gunn introduced Goldberg to the stage. As is her wont, Goldberg was dressed in an odd ensemble: a black balloon dress with black-and-white striped socks and green sequined pumps. She gamely addressed the audience about her outfit, which she described as "a circus tent. Seven people are in this dress with me. I'm wearing my favorite socks, and my favorite shoes, and I'm with my favorite people."

In presenting her with the award, HRC President Chad Griffin cited her "public support of marriage equality, including taking part in our successful New Yorkers for Marriage Equality video campaign in 2011. Whoopi is always willing to stand up for our community and is a longtime friend of HRC."

Angelica Houston

Goldberg was not the only megawatt celebrity in attendance.

Enter glamorous actress Angelica Huston, chic in black. "I'm often asked what was my favorite character to play," Hustonsaid as she opened the evening's stage show. "But being on stage here with you and fighting to make a difference is the greatest role I've ever played."

Referencing the charitable work of her father, director John Huston, she added, "HRC believes every child born into this world should have equal right and equal chances to live in a world without stigma, fear, ignorance or bigotry barring the way."

First Daughter Barbara Bush

"Tonight's theme is Make Equality Count, and that is what tonight is all about," said event co-chair Jo Doyle. Event co-chair John Rivers thanked the steering committee and the 100 volunteers.

Also on hand was President George W. Bush's daughter Barbara Bush, who has come out strong for marriage equality. "When Proposition 8 passed in California four years ago, Chad found two courageous couples to challenge it in federal court at a time when few others were willing to take up that fight," Bush noted. "Today, that case is before the U.S. Supreme Court and he brings that same passion to his work at HRC. He has logged nearly 70,000 miles in his work for equality, and he's not done yet. He has inspired me with his vision for the future."

From Stonewall to the Waldorf Astoria

"The modern movement for LGBT equality began 40 blocks from here, at Stonewall," said Griffin. "This off-the-beaten-path hole in the wall was a sanctuary, a place where LGBTs could find community, a safe haven from a world that wanted nothing to do with us. The LGBT movement was born fighting, and four decades later, we have never stopped fighting, and we have never looked back. Stonewall was a ripple of hope that turned into a mighty current that carries us today."

Griffin spoke about the rebellious spirit of the gay men, lesbians and transgendered patrons of the storied bar who decided that night that they would no longer shoulder the weight of discrimination and memorably fought back. He noted President Barack Obama's reference to Stonewall in the struggle for civil rights in his inaugural address last month.

Griffin spoke of Edie Windsor, who is a plaintiff in the challenge to DOMA that will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. Windsor sought the case after the death of her long-time partner resulted in a massive $600,000 estate tax bill that would not have been charged had the couple been legally wed. He also talked about Alameda, Calif., couple Chris and Sandy and Los Angeles couple Paul and Jeff, who are plaintiffs in another seminal court case, against California's Proposition 8.

"This March, they will have their day in the U.S. Supreme Court, and in the balance is more than an appeals judgment," Griffin said. "Those judges will capture a snapshot of our struggle. I hope they will strike down DOMA and Prop 8 once and for all."

HRC Honors retired NY. State Sen. Tom Duane

At a VIP reception preceding the event, HRC paid tribute to the many contributions of former New York State Senator Tom Duane, the first openly gay member of the New York Senate. His 13 years of work included sponsoring marriage equality legislation, SONDA, Hate Crimes Protection Act, workplace protections and the Dignity for All Students Act. Duane also was the only politician of note who has openly acknowledged being HIV positive.

"Who woulda thunk we went from Stonewall to today, and we'll keep on fighting with HRC leading the way," said Duane, before inviting his own longtime partner, Louis Webre, to share the stage with him.

Endorses NYC City Council Speaker Christine Quinn for Mayor in 2013

HRC also took the occasion of its New York gala to endorse New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn in her upcoming run for mayor of New York City.

"I know the difference HRC made for Senator Tammy Baldwin, Sean Patrick Maloney, for every LGBT member of Congress," said Quinn, who attended with her wife, attorney Kim Catullo. "Being gay is no longer a liability in having a winning vote on the ballot; you have changed the world, and made it into a place where those victories could occur, where we could have an openly gay mayor in the greatest city in the world."

Christine Quinn Looks Back

"Whoopi is a pisser!" added Quinn (either an odd or particularly apt choice of words, given Goldberg's role as a spokesperson for the incontinence product Poise). Quinn took a moment to thank her colleague (and predecessor in her City Council seat), Tom Duane.

She recalled how he often stood alone in the state senate in speaking up for LGBT rights. Quinn reminisced about how she met Jane Clementi, the mother of gay Rutger's student Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after his roommate broadcast his same-sex hookup on the Internet via a hidden camera. Rutgers University recently announced they would open the Tyler Clementi Center for LGBT students.

Also attending the gala were Senator Charles Schumer, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer.

Gifts from Corporate Sponsors at Auction

The evening raised more funds for HRC through both silent and live auctions.

Silent auction items included a a Courtney Waugh pantsuit, tickets to New York Knicks games, Delta first-class airline tickets, a window treatment design package from Hunter Douglas Design, a five-night stay at the Fairmont Hotel in Southampton, N.Y., a week's stay in Puerto Vallarta, Puerto Rico, and tickets to the upcoming Broadway show "Kinky Boots."

Corporate co-chairs included American Airlines, Citibank, Diageo, Microsoft, Nationwide, Bank of America, Coca-Cola, Ernst & Young, Lexus, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Prudential, Deloitte and more. Prudential Financial, Inc. was the recipient of the 2013 HRC Corporate Equality Award.

Auctioneer April Brown animated the crowd with her fast-paced live auctioneering of four premiere items. A first class American Airlines package for a three-night stay at W Hotel South Beach went for $6,000. A $10,000 shopping spree at Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams went for $9,500. American Airlines also put up an "Escape to Europe" package: a pair of first-class tickets to Europe, with a three-night stay at a Marriott property, for $2,300.

Goldberg offered two VIP tickets to a taping of "The View," with a meet-and-greet with her fellow cast members. She also offered a inside look at her extensive shoe collection, which went for $5,500. TV personality Tim Gunn spoke about his own tour of Goldberg's shoe collection, before bringing her to the stage to present the award.

The event concluded with a performance by Broadway, film and TV actor and singer Billy Porter. The after-party had music provided by DJ Joe Mendez, with a performance by dance diva Kristine W., who not only sang and danced but played the saxophone.

For info on upcoming HRC galas throughout the country, visit

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.