Melissa Etheridge and TV Stars Turn Out for Family Equality Council
The 2014 Olympic Games may be 6,887 miles away in Sochi, Russia, but the rock stars, actors and producers at the Family Equality Council Los Angeles Awards Dinner Saturday night at the Globe Theatre in Universal City felt a keen sense of camaraderie with frightened LGBT Russians being harassed and hunted on the other side of the globe. Just before the gala, Family Equality Council launched an effort—#ToSochiWithLove—to “show our love and support for LGBT families in Russia” through photos and personal expressions on social media. But Family Equality Council’s support for LGBT Russians and the success of its Feb. 8 awards dinner may indicate a more pronounced shift in the LGBT movement toward a greater recognition of the importance of LGBT families. And while there are a number of important family-oriented organizations, the Family Equality Council may have just catapulted from support group to the most prominent national family organization on the LGBT scene.
February 12, 2014 - by Karen Ocamb
The 2014 Olympic Games may be 6,887 miles away in Sochi, Russia, but the rock stars, actors and producers at the Family Equality Council Los Angeles Awards Dinner Saturday night at the Globe Theatre in Universal City felt a keen sense of camaraderie with frightened LGBT Russians being harassed and hunted on the other side of the globe.
Just before the gala, Family Equality Council launched an effort—#ToSochiWithLove—to “show our love and support for LGBT families in Russia” through photos and personal expressions on social media.
But Family Equality Council’s support for LGBT Russians and the success of its Feb. 8 awards dinner may indicate a more pronounced shift in the LGBT movement toward a greater recognition of the importance of LGBT families. And while there are a number of important family-oriented organizations, the Family Equality Council may have just catapulted from support group to the most prominent national family organization on the LGBT scene. The FEC event was sold out with 500 tickets selling for $500+, raising $571,000 from tickets, sponsors, an auction and other donations. Additionally, event co-chair producer and actor (Scandal) Dan Bucatinsky pitched an online raffle—for $10 you could win free a trip to Los Angeles, dinner with Bucatinsky and some of the cast from Scandal and a Brooks Brothers shopping spree. (Go to Omaze.com/experiences/scandal).
For many in the audience, there was a deep subliminal understanding that they represent the last psychological barricade to overcoming the myth that gay men and lesbians are not sexual predators and can be—and have the right to be—loving parents to children in a family of their own.
Obliquely referencing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay so-called “propaganda law” that is supposed to “protect” children from even the knowledge about gay people, FEC emcee comedian Alec Mapa called his family “Vladimir Putin’s worst nightmare.” But Mapa, who has been working with the L.A.-based RaiseAChild organization to spur gay adoption and foster parenting (above photo by Steven C. De La Cruz Photography), also called out the hypocrites on the religious right who espouse “family values” as long as they define what that family looks like.
“I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear that religious people are coming for me and my family, the one thing I can think is: Shouldn’t you be reading to the blind? Aren’t there homeless people in your area who could benefit from a kind word or a hot meal? Could there possibly be a better use of your time and resources than going after the life and liberty of people you’ll never meet, whose lives and freedom will never affect you in any other way?”
It’s not as if FEC has been invisible. FEC was founded in 1979 in the wake of the Anita Bryant/Rev. Jerry Falwell “Save Our Children Crusade.” But the organization has been largely considered a support group for LGBT families with family vacations and 19 years of hosting Family Week in Provincetown. Over the past several years, FEC has become more engaged in more issues.
In 2010, FEC filed the lead amicus brief in the federal district court trial challenging the constitutionality of Prop 8. As lawsuit sponsor American Foundation for Equal Rights sponsor put it:
Using the testimony of children raised in homes led by same-sex parents and testimony from LGBT youth about their personal experiences, Family Equality Council, et al demonstrates that: 1) same-sex parented families are successfully and responsibly creating and nurturing the next generation; 2) contrary to their stated purpose of stabilizing families, both Proposition 8 and DOMA delegitimize the families of same-sex parents in the eyes of the law and society; and 3) both Proposition 8 and DOMA harm LGBT youth by teaching them that their government considers them, and any committed relationships they may form as adults, to be inherently inferior to those of their heterosexual peers.
FEC filed its “Voice of the Children” brief to also overturn DOMA, and now in the marriage equality cases in Utah and Oklahoma, FEC Executive Director Gabriel Blau announced, “Our values don’t stop at the state border, and neither should our work,” he said.
Just in time. The Washington Blade reports that the Mormon Church and major Christian groups have filed amicus briefs citing a 2002 study entitled “Marriage from a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children and What Can We Do About It?” Carol Emig, president of the nonprofit that conducted the study, told the Blade that “no conclusions can be drawn from this research about the well-being of children raised by same sex parents.” And, while she has pointed this out for years, “to our dismay we continue to see our 2002 research mischaracterized by some opponents of same-sex marriage.”
As if any further evidence of their credibility is needed, FEC announced last year that their historical archives will be preserved at Yale University—for a project supervised by George Chauncey, Samuel Knight Professor of History and American Studies and co-director of the Yale Research Initiative on the History of Sexualities.
“The dramatic growth in the number of families headed by LGBT parents in the last generation is a remarkable historical development, and it would not have been possible without the work of Family Equality Council and allied organizations to make such families more secure. These records will be invaluable to historians and other scholars seeking to document and interpret this profound cultural transformation.” said Chauncey, whose testimony at the AFER Prop. 8 trial on Jan. 12, 2010 was critical.
“I see the creation and then re-enforcement of a series of demonic images of homosexuals that stay with us today. And so the fear of homosexuals as child molesters or as recruiters continues to have—play a role in debates over gay rights, and with particular attention to gay teachers, parents and married couples, people who might have close contact with children,” Chauncey testified as an expert witness.
Indeed, many of the attendees at the FEC event commented on how far the LGBT movement has come. Lesbian rocker mom Melissa Etheridge, for instance, talked about the announcement by US Attorney General Eric Holder that the Justice Department would make every effort to ensure equal treatment for same-sex couples. “It is the Department’s policy, to the extent federal law permits, to recognize lawful same-sex marriages as broadly as possible, and to recognize all marriages valid in the jurisdiction where the marriage was celebrated,” Holder’s memo reads, in part.
Ohio lesbian Jennifer Tyrrell (pictured with her wife Alicia and Laura Prepon from Orange is the new Black) exemplifies how LGBT parents can be fierce fighters when it comes to “saving our children,” too. Tyrrell, a popular den leader of her son’s Cub Scout troop, was “fired” by the Boy Scouts of American because she is a lesbian. Tyrrell was an FEC honoree for her fierce fight to change the BSA’s anti-gay policies. On May 23, 2013, after years of legal battles and community enlightenment, the BSA changed their policy to admit gay youth—but not gay adults. Tyrrell says she continues to monitor what the BSA is doing and pushing for full equality.
Etheridge has a unique perspective on the progress LGBT people have made, having come out (in an interview with me) shortly after the 1992 Clinton Inauguration. Eight years later, Etheridge braved thunder claps and lightening as she stood under a flimsy canopy in the pouring rain at West Hollywood Park denouncing Prop 22, the anti-gay marriage Knight Initiative that eventually passed overwhelmingly.
“And look how far we’ve come,” Etheridge told me on the jam-packed FEC Red Carpet. “At the time, we didn’t know—we were just daring to imagine the unimaginable; daring to say ‘gay marriage.’ That wasn’t even something we said in the 1980s. So now, having that being what [advanced] our whole movement is really amazing. And the organizations and the dedication and what it did to us, as people—we’re like, “Hell, yeah, I’m gay. And I’m a regular citizen, just like you. Look what I’ve done.’”
Etheridge was also the representative for regular LGBT people during the 2007 Human Rights Campaign/Logo-sponsored debate with Democratic presidential contenders. Without any hesitation or compunction, Etheridge asked then-frontrunner New York Sen. Hillary Clinton: “When your husband was elected president, it was a very hopeful time for the gay community. But in the years that followed, our hearts were broken. A year from now, are we going to be left behind like we were before?”
Etheridge and her partner actor/writer Linda Wallem, the co-creator and show-runner for Nurse Jackie, broke out laughing, remembering the moment. They both think Clinton’s come far since then. “I think she has made it very, very clear where she stands on gay rights and LGBT rights and I absolutely support her,” Etheridge said. “She’s like ‘I hear you,’ and she is out there not doing it for the press but doing it for the right reason. I’ve already heard how much work she’s doing and how much help she’s giving a lot of things.”
“If you read her book, you realize she’s been of service since she was a kid,” Wallem said. “She grew up in Highland Park with a Republican family. And what she’s done is so amazing. And as Secretary of State, she was amazing.” Both would “absolutely support” Clinton if she runs for president.
But while Etheridge and Tyrrell see the arc of history bending toward justice for LGBT Americans, Star Trek-actor-turned-gay-activist George Takei is concerned the opposite is happening for gays in Russia—with the complicity of organizations like the International Olympic Committee. Takei considers the IOC “spineless” for giving Putin a global platform, despite the imposition of the harsh anti-gay so-called “propaganda” law in that country that has given permission for violence and the “hunting” of gays, according to an extraordinary British Channel 4 documentary. Takei is an expert in how propaganda can manipulate sentiment: during World War II, his family was rounded up, and as a child he lived in two internment camps in the United States after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The camps made an indelible imprint on him.
Early on, Takei called for the IOC to move the Olympics from Sochi to Vancouver, Canada, which had previously hosted the Olympics and had existing venues. He submitted a petition to the IOC with almost 200,000 signatures noting that Russia had broken the Olympic’s own Principle 6 against discrimination with their anti-gay laws.
“That so-called propaganda law is blatantly discriminatory, and the [IOC] said, ‘Well, we’ve been assured by Russia that there will not be discrimination,’” Takei said, getting more annoyed with each breath.
Putin’s comments that gays would be OK at the Olympics—“but stay away from the children”—boiled his blood. “Already he’s creating that innuendo where we’re preying on children. That man,” Takei said, “this Olympics is really a chilling thing because it reminds me of the 1936 Olympics when the Olympics Committee provided an international platform for Adolf Hitler. And the people said, ‘It can’t be that bad. It’s so obviously racist.”
A few years before the 1936 Games, Germany had passed an “innocuous” law that Takei feels invariably led to the Holocaust. “I’m not saying a holocaust against gays is going to happen, but this man is in need of a scapegoat. Russia’s economy is in the pits. And they overspent on this Olympics,” he said. “[The IOC is] absolutely spineless. We said all of this is happening and they said, ‘No, let me assure you. We’re confident that there will not be discrimination. They were bamboozled by Putin. He’s a dangerous man.”
Takei said it would be “irresponsible” to stop the pressure on Putin after the Olympics. “That’s the example of the 1936. Putin is feeling his oats now,” he said. “It’s a tremendous platform he’s got. And he’s going to use it. If you know Putin, he’s not going to let this thing rest.”
Bucatinsky—who’s married to filmmaker and screenwriter Don Roos, with whom he has two children—said he is not watching the Olympics. “I’m more inclined to watch, normally, the whole thing—it just has bad breath this year. The feeling of it does. And I’m active in supporting all the organizations right now that are working to change what is happening in Russia. Obviously those athletes are phenomenal, and they’ve all worked really hard. It’s always hard when the politics overshadows the flags and the nationalism and the amount of work they all do. That’s a given. For me personally, I’m not engaging.”
Except for skating, perhaps.
Bucatinsky was the event co-chair, along with photographer David Miller and HBO Executive Vice President Casey Bloys. Several of the Glee stars sang, including new cast member Adam Lambert, who sang “Mad World” after talking extensively to The Insider, including excited executive producer Brad Bessy, who was an event host. This is the entire video, as posted on Lambert’s blog:
The success of Glee illustrates another, perhaps more quiet well-spring of activism—the recognition that LGBT people are a minority, a people with unique characteristics, with a history and progress—and with children who must be taken care of. This was the original inspiration of Dr. Virginia Uribe, who created Project 10 in 1984 as a dropout prevention program at Fairfax High School to the creation of the Gay-Straight Alliances and the Gay Lesbian Education Network and the Trevor Project and Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project.
Murphy said he never really thinks about how many young gay lives he’s saved through Glee. “When I started off in the business around 1998, I had gay characters because I’m gay and I would get a lot of notes to make them less gay,” Murphy said. “I remember fighting and fighting. And then it just sort of stopped one day and they became more encouraging and wanted more gay characters and so I just feel I try and mirror the culture—maybe push it forward a little bit. But I never think about it.”
But he has gotten feedback. “We get a lot of comments, amazing comments about [how Glee has helped someone]. And that was totally unexpected and very rewarding and a blessing. I get stories like that all the time. It’s just very sweet and rewarding, because I remember when I was a kid, I had nothing,” he said. “You know, I had nothing from the public culture and I just feel the kids today have a lot. Even if they’re stuck in unhappy situations, I think they see maybe on television ways out, futures out. So that’s good.”
The Family Equality Council also honored actor Peter Paige and Bradley Bredeweg (pictured here with The Insider executive producer Brad Bessey, center), co-creators of ABC Family’s The Fosters. The team said they are trying to change the dialogue about what it means to be a family. “DNA doesn’t choose a family. Love does.”
Paige choked up and said it is “utterly baffling” how the radical right has twisted family values. “It’s wrong that in the name of the Bible or some tradition that was handed down to them by their parents and their parents before them, those people are choosing to vilify other families—other families created by choice, created by love. It’s appalling and it has to stop.”
The room fell quiet when Bredeweg read a letter from Amanda, 15, a viewer of The Fosters, who thanked them “a million times to infinity” for showing a family like hers. A family with two moms who adopted her at age 6 “when no one else wanted me” because she has leukemia.
FEC also announced a program called “Pearls of Wisdom” to welcome grandparents into the family mix.
The unexpected treasure of the night was Melissa Etheridge, a very famous person sharing with other very famous and powerful people the simple joys and drawbacks of being a parent. Onstage she let loose with story after story, explaining that she had been with the kids all day and it was nice to be with adults. The crowd roared with shared understanding.
Is it just me or are we everywhere now? …All that hard work we did for 20 years. … It seems just days after [the DOMA decision], and all of a sudden reports started coming from Russia. What? Time to put on our superhero capes again.
We’ve got to go do it again, because it’s not just us—it’s a movement. It is a serious movement. I think, if we look back on it, us gays … [digression about ‘gay’ versus ‘LGBTQ’] … I think that for the past 20 years, we’ve just happen to be at the forefront of an amazing change in humanity. People will look back at it and go, ‘Thank God the gays were so organized.’ [Much laughter]
Then she shared about what turned out to be a “teaching moment” for her 7-year-old daughter, Johnnie Rose. Someone texted Etheridge an image of the Greek contingent walking out in the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics. As with so many others, the texter mistakenly thought the Greeks were wearing rainbows on the tips of their gloves in solidarity with the gays. In fact, the colors were those of the Olympic rings. But that was not known then, and her daughter, “ who loves pink things” and “rainbow stuff,” got very excited.
Oh, my God—I thought this is the time. I said, ‘You know what … there are places where people actually think that having two moms and two dads is bad for you. She goes [makes face]! That was the craziest thing I could have ever said to her. And I said, when people put little rainbows on, it means that they’re thinking about us and they’re sending us love. And that’s just awesome.’ So thank you for a moment like that—it’s happening, and I’m going to sing this song, “Uprising of Love,” and it’s about all of you.
Here is Melissa singing “Uprising of Love” (Bruce Cohen and Dustin Lance Black were co-founders of the Uprising of Love coalition) on New Year’s Eve, just before the ball fell in Times Square: