The Human Rights Campaign’s National Dinner in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, Sept. 28 was anything but dull, featuring breaking national news, the unveiling of several new initiatives, and even a pregnancy announcement.
The annual dinner, which marked the first for HRC’s newly appointed president, Alphonso David — the first person of color to head the organization — placed a significant amount of focus around intersectionality, emphasizing the need for white and cisgender LGB people to stand up for their brothers and sisters who are transgender or people of color.
In the eight weeks since David took charge of HRC, the organization has made significant overtures to the transgender community, announcing several new initiatives centered around promoting the economic empowerment and safety of transgender people. David also spoke at the National Trans Visibility March earlier Saturday morning, where he promised that HRC would not only stand in solidarity with but take concrete actions for the benefit of the transgender community, and asked those in attendance to hold him accountable in the coming months and years.
Addressing the nearly 3,600 people in attendance at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, David, himself an asylum seeker from Liberia as a youth, took direct aim at President Trump and those in his administration promoting the rollback of LGBTQ rights or protections, casting HRC as a foil to them and unequivocally opposed to the president’s re-election.
“There has been, and continues to be, a widespread indifference and bigotry advanced through the highest halls of power, and a fundamental regression of our society. At the core of this moral recession is Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and their cadre of lieutenants,” he said. “They have artfully sought to use our identities as a sword, and create false hierarchies, to fool us into believing that we lose something simply by recognizing someone else as a human being.
“We have witnessed a dramatic rollback of our democracy at the hands of a president who holds the rule of law in contempt. He also holds national security in contempt, as we saw this week. As we saw recently, he even holds weather reports in contempt,” David added, referring to the president’s false claims about recent hurricanes battering the American Southeast. “And you can tweet all of that.”
Returning to the importance of intersectionality and solidarity among members of the LGBTQ community, David said it was imperative for those in attendance to “see beyond ourselves” and demonstrate empathy for those struggling with poverty and unemployment, undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers, transgender women who have been targeted by violence, and other vulnerable communities.
He also emphasized the importance of access to voting and the power of the ballot box in bringing about political change. David said that HRC would partner with 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and her organization, Fair Fight, to mobilize voters, fight voter suppression efforts in various states, and ensure that communities that have historically been disenfranchised, such as communities of color — including significant numbers of LGBTQ individuals — are able to exercise their rights in 2020 and beyond.
“I have a message for Donald Trump, a simple message: We are coming for you,” David said. “Nancy Pelosi is coming for you. Chuck Schumer is coming for you. Every person who cares about equality, humanity, and civil society is coming for you. In one way, or another, your time is up.”
Those comments were echoed by featured speaker Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the U.S. Senate Minority Leader, who made news by coming out publicly for the first time in favor of the Democratic-run House of Representatives’ recently launched impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
“In the coming months ahead, Congress has a serious job ahead of us,” Schumer said. “We are in rare constitutional waters. But you have my word that Speaker Pelosi and I will treat this matter with the gravity, and seriousness, and dignity it deserves. But, Donald Trump, make no mistake: If the facts merit, as Alphonso said, ‘Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are coming for you!'”
Schumer, touting his bona fides as the parent of a lesbian daughter, lamented the recent actions taken by the administration to curtail protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. But he also encouraged attendees to take the long view, saying he believes “justice and full equality are written into America’s destiny.”
Schumer also promised that, should Democrats successfully take back the U.S. Senate in 2020, he would schedule a vote on the Equality Act, which passed the House in June but has been denied even a hearing in the Republican-run upper chamber. He predicted that, in a Democratic-run Senate, there would be enough votes to pass the measure.
“In this moment, when so many of us have profound anxiety about our county, I want to remind everyone here of an unassailable truth: America does change for the better. But its capacity for change, and the speed and scope [of that change], remains entirely up to us,” Schumer said. “We can’t let up. We must continue to push, and prod, to march, and fight, and use our voice, not just for the future, but our families, our children, and all those who come after us, for generations. We will leave them a more equal world…. We will win the fight!”
Singer and actor Ricky Martin, who was honored with HRC’s National Visibility Award, also grabbed headlines when he announced that he and his husband, Jwan Yosef, are expecting a fourth child, telling the crowd: “We are pregnant.”
The Grammy-winning singer recently took part in demonstrations calling for the resignation of Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Roselló, after homophobic, sexist, and offensive messages sent between Roselló and members of his cabinet were made public — including texts making fun of Martin’s sexuality. Martin held up the successful and peaceful transition of power after Roselló stepped down as an example of the impact that people can have when they work together collectively and demand change.
Martin dedicated his award to the LGBTQ migrants fleeing violence and persecution in Central America who come to America seeking asylum, promising to speak on their behalf while also imploring those assembled to exercise their right to vote, adding: “This needs to change.”
Actress Dominique Jackson, best known for her role as Elektra Abundance on the FX series Pose, was the recipient of HRC’s National Equality Award. In her acceptance speech, she delivered a frank, simple message demanding respect for herself and other transgender people as human beings.
Invoking the violent death of Florida transgender woman Bee Love Slater, Jackson reflected on the perils facing transgender women of color, and the lack of respect afforded to them by the larger society. She also called on those assembled to check their privilege and take concrete actions to support those transgender people at the margins.
“I am a human being. I am a human being, just like each and every one of you,” she said. “My brothers and sisters hurt. We are murdered…. I accept this honor, and I appreciate it, and I thank you, each and every one of you. But when you walk out of here tonight…we must see the human factor. Our foundation is human, not sex.
“It is not about us saying to someone else, ‘I accept you’ or ‘I tolerate you.’ You do not have the power to accept or tolerate me. I take that from you,” added Jackson. “You will respect me.”