By: Brandy Black
The Human Rights Campaign Gala was another smashing hit this year! Held at the Ritz Carlton in downtown Los Angeles, the stars were hard to spot among the many beautiful guests that were in attendance. Tears were shed as we celebrated the huge steps that the HRC campaign has been making towards equal rights for all.
I got the chance to speak with the fabulous Jesse Tyler Ferguson of Modern Family before the event began.
Brandy: How has it impacted you playing the first gay dad on a major network television show?
Jesse: It’s a huge honor. I don’t take the job lightly, the social ramifications of a role like that of Cameron and Mitchell are huge so we take it very seriously. I’m encouraged daily by people who come up to me and say “thank you for representing my family on TV” or “thank you for changing the mind of someone I care about” or “thank you for changing my mind.” So it’s awesome. I think television is a very powerful medium and I think it makes certain things safe and I think we’ve made certain gay couples safe in a lot of homes and maybe it wasn’t so and if it’s ok for Cameron and Mitchell to raise a baby and live their lives and get married, maybe it’s ok for Bob and Joe down the street…so I think it’s really encouraging.
Brandy: Do you feel a responsibility as a celebrity to speak out for certain causes?
Jesse: I speak out for causes that I feel passionate about; I accept the responsibility. I certainly never set out to be a poster child for everything but I’m certainly more than happy to add my voice to a group. I’m just an actor. I didn’t even go to college. I’m not the smartest cookie in the drawer…how about that? I combined three: (1) smartest (2) cookie in the (3) drawer. I certainly don’t want to be the band leader for anything but I want to be in the band for sure.
Brandy: Are you similar to your character?
Jesse: Mitchell is way more serious than I am…but like he, I have a passion for life. I have family values and I would certainly love to have an adorable little daughter some day, too.
Jesse was one of the opening speakers for the HRC Gala.
“I am so proud to be an openly gay actor in Hollywood and that goes for all 7 of us. The change is happening and it’s getting better all the time.”
The fabulous Chelsea Montgomery Duban introduced her “new gay uncle- guncle” Joe Solmonese to the stage. Chelsea is best known for speaking out and supporting her gay dads. I did a two-part series on her family last year after the 2010 HRC Awards.
The HRC announced its newest LGBT initiative called Welcoming Schools in which they strive to build a school community where all students are welcome and respected. The speakers celebrated the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the many people on the Human Rights Campaign that helped to make this happen. The President of the HRC, Joe Solmonese, gave an inspiring speech and thanked the many heros that have fought for equality.
Honoree Rabbi Denise L. Egers
Honoree Rev. Susan Russell
Craig Stowell (below right, with his brother Calvin), who served in Iraq, says when he heard about the hearings to repeal gay marriage in New Hampshire, he thought of his 22-year-old brother Calvin and all that he had gone through growing up gay. Craig felt he had to speak out. He took out a full-page ad in the paper to tell the story of his family.
“Until a month ago, I’d never done anything, not even a letter to the editor…let alone conceived of telling my story in a full-page ad in the most conservative newspaper in New Hampshire. In our family, we stand up for each other no matter what and when it came time for me to speak up, HRC helped me find my voice…because I saw what my brother went through for too many years. It was obvious to me. The effort to take away gay marriage was not only wrong but shameful…Calvin, I’m so proud of the man you’ve become and no one has the right to take away your freedom to marry and one day, when you find the man of your dreams, I hope I’ll get to be your best man, just as you were mine.”
It was a truly inspirational evening for all.
By: Brandy Black
A wedding video by Chelsea Montgomery-Duban speaking about her two dads
A couple of weeks ago I attended a Human Rights Campaign event in Los Angeles. Among all of the celebrities who graced the stage, there was one stand-out presenter who really spoke from the heart. 16-year-old Chelsea Montgomery-Duban talked about life with her 2 dads. She urged the crowd to get involved and join in her fight for gay rights, proclaiming, “my drive for equality is unstoppable”.
We had originally planned to meet up at their Malibu home or somewhere nearby, but due to Chelsea’s tough dance schedule and a trip to visit colleges, I was only able to chat with her over the phone.
She answered in an upbeat voice. I stayed on hold while she went up to her bedroom to take the call, music playing over the phone while I waited. As soon as she was back on the line, I gushed over her sweet, funny speech and told her what a treat it was to speak with her.
Chelsea- It’s funny to me that anyone would even want to interview me.
Apparently her fathers taught her humility and I will later uncover what a truly down-to-earth girl she is. I asked her to tell me a bit about herself, what life is like for her.
Chelsea- I turn 17 in July. I’ve been dancing since I was 2 and singing since I was 7. I want to get a musical theatre degree in college. My parents are my best friends. (pause) I don’t know what’s interesting about me.
Brandy- You’re looking at colleges?
Chelsea- I’m looking at colleges all out of California…
Brandy- Is that scary for you?
Chelsea-It’s terrifying. I’m so nervous about it because I’m so close to my parents but I know if I stayed in California I would never become independent. I know if I ever needed them, they would be there in 2 seconds. They would jump on a plane. It’s scary but there’s texting and video chat…
Brandy- What kind of performing do you do?
Chelsea- I do a little bit of everything…There’s the thing being able to perform for a live audience, it was almost the same as standing up at the HRC and getting to speak there and have people laugh with you and cry. I just love being able to make people feel things.
Brandy- You definitely seemed comfortable up there and I wouldn’t imagine many 16 year-olds would.
Chelsea- I perform all the time and I’ve never been so nervous in my entire life. Oh my gosh I was shaking, I got to the point where I said to my dad “I’m not sure I can do this” and he said “you can do this, pretend it’s [not] 1000 people” and I said “dad you keep saying it’s 1000 people. You’re making me not want to do it.” (Laughs) I’m so comfortable dancing and singing in front of people, but then I was not playing a character and I had to speak as myself and that was just petrifying.
Brandy- How did that come about, you speaking for HRC?
I put a video up on YouTube of my speech at my parents’ wedding. They got married in October of 2008 officially; they’ve been together for 28 years…and I put the video up and it actually got a lot of press.
It was in a bunch of different newspapers…I had 26,000 views, I had no idea it was going to get to that level, I just put it up to change some people’s minds and all of a sudden it started showing up on all of these different web sites. Then my dad sent it to the HRC and then my daddy also has clients on the board of HRC so I’ve known them for a while and they know me and knew I was comfortable performing.
Brandy- Was that the first time you’ve taken a stand politically for your dads, so to speak?
Chelsea- Yeah that was the first time outside of my group of friends…I’ve had friends that have had problems at school, barely any -maybe like one person -that I’ve ever run into that might have voted “yes” on 8, but after talking to her, I go to an all girls’ school, but after talking to her, she, ya know, they changed their minds once they see what I’m like and what my parents are like. We always make this joke: once they get to know us, we’re like, it’s too late -you’re already friends with us.
Brandy- Your friends for the most part don’t have an issue at all?
Chelsea- No, really I don’t think I’ve run into anyone within my friend group, no.
Brandy- What about their parents?
Chelsea- They are very quiet about it if they do have a problem. I mean, I have a family member that’s not exactly supportive, but other than that my friends’ parents seem to be great. If they don’t agree they definitely don’t let it show…I really don’t know of anyone that has a problem with my family.
Brandy- Have you grown up in Malibu all your life?
Brandy- Tell me about your dads. They have very different roles in your life?
Chelsea-They are polar opposites; they could not be more perfect for each other. It’s very funny. My dad Kevin was an entertainer, and now is a full-time dad, and my daddy is an accountant, which is funny; he’s the one who likes to shop with me and spend a lot of money but he’s the accountant which makes absolutely no sense [laughs]. But he’s passionate about that and loves working. I don’t think he’ll ever retire. They are absolute opposites except in the really important areas…the really basic things you need to be in sync. They have all the same ideas about everything but just as people they are totally different. My dad is super outgoing and my daddy is introverted around people he doesn’t know. They are just total opposites.
Brandy- Are you adopted or are you biological?
Chelsea- I’m biological; it was my dad’s sperm and my daddy’s sister’s egg.
Brandy- Do you hate that question?
Chelsea- No I absolutely love telling that story. It’s really funny; I will force it on people and they’ll say “Ok I so didn’t need to know that.” [laughs]
Brandy – Do you find that people ask you a lot of questions about your family? Is it a conversation piece all the time?
Chelsea- It becomes my talking piece when I go anywhere…something comes up where they’ll ask a question about my mom and I’ll say I have two dads and they’ll go “oh were you adopted?” And it’s not that I wouldn’t want people to think I was adopted, it’s just that I wasn’t. My situation is different than most and I think that’s part of what makes me unique. Not that that’s the only thing, but the story is really important to me.
Brandy- Do you ever get tired of talking about it?
Chelsea- I don’t know, um it’s a little personal I guess, if it’s people you don’t know well, but for me I love talking about it and getting it out there and I want people to understand, and I think if that’s the way it’s going to be able to help people understand my family and me than they should know and they should be able to have access to that information.
Brandy- Do you feel like you’re under a microscope a lot? Is there an added pressure to having two dads?
Chelsea- I, yeah, a lot, I feel like I have to be the perfect child in order for society to accept my family, I feel like I have to be good in school; I’m not going to get drunk at a party –I mean, not that I would really do that anyway because that’s so not me, but I don’t think I can get away with doing stupid things. For any other kid, they won’t be judged so much but for me it would be taken 10 times whatever anybody else would get, so I definitely feel like that is an added pressure. I have to do well in school, I have to be successful – and that’s not a pressure my parents put on me, but more society, I think.
Brandy- Do you ever talk to your parents about that?
Chelsea- Yeah, they’re really supportive; they would do anything to make it easier. and I also think it’s pressure I put on myself to make myself look good. I don’t want to appear the way society wants me to appear, but I feel it’s necessary in order to be accepted.
Brandy- Do you have any advice for kids or teenagers that are struggling with that pressure?
Chelsea- We’re kind of to the point that our family is the same as other families, regardless of how much better or worse or how different they are. The point is that we’re a diverse community so you don’t have to be perfect. It’s not what they’re looking for. You want to make a mistake like any other teenager. You may feel like you are being put under a microscope, and maybe you are, but it’s really important that whatever your value system is, I think, I would only do something if I thought it was OK to do it, regardless of what society thinks. I just have to get over my whole perfectionist thing. If I make a mistake, I make a mistake.
Brandy- Do you have many friends that have gay parents?
Chelsea- I don’t really have any friends that have gay parents…there are other girls at school that have gay parents but a lot of them are younger than I and I’m not really friends with them. I kind of feel like I’m at the older end of children of gay parents, because it just didn’t happen before me. That sounded so narcissistic [laughs]. It was just very uncommon; it’s becoming more common now. So most people that I meet are 3-4 years younger than I so I don’t really connect with them.
Brandy- Do you remember when you realized that your family was different than others?
Chelsea- There’s actually one story I can remember…I was probably 6 or 7. I was in Hawaii and I was playing with a girl I just met and we started arguing… and the girl walked up to my dad and goes “she said she doesn’t have a mom” and he said, “well she doesn’t” and she goes “Oh Ok” and then she went back and we started playing and then we started arguing again and I said “No they aren’t” and she goes “Yes they are” “No they aren’t”, “Yes they are” and finally I walked over to my dad and said “Dad, she says you’re gay” and he said “Well I am” and I said “Oh I’m sorry –he is.” I just had no idea there was a label. I mean, before then I noticed I didn’t have a mom, I guess, but I never really thought about it. It’s funny; that was just the norm. I knew it was different than most other families but it didn’t really phase me.
Brandy- Did you ever go through a phase where you didn’t want to tell people?
I don’t think I ever really saw it as a negative thing until I got old enough to be looking at the politics where people were saying that it wasn’t ok, until the point where I could really understand what was going on in the world.
It might have been when Bush became President when I thought this isn’t ok, people are having an issue with this and I didn’t even know.
Brandy- Is there anything that you might want our readers to know as a takeaway about you or your family?
Chelsea- Although my family appears on a physical basis different than so many other families, at the heart all that really counts is that we love each other so much. In so many families the love isn’t there and that is one thing that should be common to all families and is definitely part of my family so I think that’s important.
Brandy- So what I’m getting from you is that your family is just like any other family.
Chelsea-Yeah except for the fact that I feel so much more extraordinarily blessed to be in the situation that I am.
Brandy- Do you think there are advantages to the family you have?
Chelsea- For me I think my family as a family… we have so much fun
I’m the only 16 year-old that I know who loves going on a trip with her parents. We can have a great time wherever. I’d rather go out to dinner with my parents than most of my friends –they don’t need to know that –[laughs] actually most of them do know that. I feel so incredibly blessed. I think they are the most grounded people that I could’ve asked for, and probably three-quarter of my friends’ parents are divorced and don’t get along and don’t want to see each other. I’ve seen the effects it has on my friends, and for me to know, no matter if my parents argue are not, I am absolutely sure they are going to be together. It’s such a comfort.
Brandy- So are your parents letting you date yet?
Chelsea- Yeah they are. They are very picky though -as am I – so it’s ok…the guys that I go out with meet my parents before I go out on a date with them. I’m allowed to date, with constraints.
Brandy- That must be really intimidating for the guys that you’re dating…
Chelsea- It’s awful! The first guy I went out with dropped one of our plates…the poor guy! He was so nervous. I felt so bad. [My dads] are the sweetest guys if you know them, but I can see how it would be intimidating.
Brandy- Ok last question, do you have any advice for gay parents?
Chelsea- I don’t really see my family as that different from any other. The one thing that my dad did is he always followed through with any punishment that he gave me –and that is, I think, what made me the person that I am…he disciplined me to a “T”.
Brandy- I can’t believe you are complimenting him for that. [laugh]
Chelsea- [laugh] I know, it’s really funny, I don’t know why. [laugh] I think as long as your child knows how much you love them.. I always know that I couldn’t have been a mistake…to the children of gay families: to know that you are so wanted, they wanted you so much; I think that’s really important to know. And [to the parents]: treat your child that way –to remember that you wanted them so much.
My interview with Chelsea was everything I expected and more and got me thinking that I had to meet the amazing people behind this truly inspiring girl. I sat chatting with her parents for over 2 hours, so keep an eye out for Part 2 of this touching family’s story.
By: Brandy Black
“Speak The Truth” was the theme of the Human Rights Campaign “HRC” gala dinner in Los Angeles. It was a star-studded evening and I had a chance to chat it up with some of the fabulous celebs that walked the red carpet before the big event.
Michael Manning- Real World DC
B- How was coming out on National TV on Real Word DC?
Michael- “Think of the hardest thing you’ve ever done and have a million eyes on you while you’re doing it.”
B- Any advice you’d give LGBT youth?
Don’t let other people tell you how to live. You’re born a certain way…just be who you are, show the world that we’re your doctors, your lawyers, we teach in your schools, we drive your busses, we’re just as boring as anyone else so give us the same rights.
Jillian Michael’s from The Biggest Loser
This is a cause that I’m very much behind. I think it’s extremely important that we support this. I actually don’t even know what to tell you; it doesn’t even make sense that we’re even here right now, but I’ll do whatever it takes to be supportive.
B- Is this your first HRC event?
Jillian- Yes it is and I’m here to support Suze Orman and KT, her lover; they’ve been tremendous friends and mentors of mine. I’m very excited.
Kathy Griffin’s mom-
We need marriages to last – I think everyone should get married.
Louis Van Amstel- Dancing With The Stars
Suze Orman and Portia Di Rossi dashed past to the gala right before dinner began. The room was full of beautiful people laughing and toasting. Suze Orman opened the evening by saying,
I find it strange that we need a campaign for all the people in this room, including me.
The crowd cheered.
Over the clinking of dishes and bubbling champagne there were many moving speakers throughout the evening. Joe Solmonese, the President of the Human Rights Campaign, gave an eloquent speech about how far we’ve come and where we are going.
We are the aggressors and they are the victims, that’s why the Perry trial couldn’t be televised…we are winning…changing laws is what makes life better.
US Senator Barbara Boxer received a standing ovation when she stepped onto the stage. She spoke in support of the crowd before her with a determination to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell”.
“It is a privilege and honor to work with the HRC. It is a powerful force and they ask just one thing from their country –to be treated equally.”
She went on to explain that we need to focus on the victories. “After more than 10 years of debate, the Matthew Shepard bill got signed into law.” She talked about ENDA- Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
“I’m going to pick up the baton and do everything I can until ENDA is signed into law.” Barbara ended her speech with,
marriage equality is a civil right, plain and simple. If you make a commitment to honor and love, that’s marriage isn’t it? I stand for marriage equality strong in my heart- from me to you.
Chelsea Montgomery-Duban, age 16, gave a speech full of laughter and tears. She has been attending the HRC events with her two dads since she was 9 years old.
“My parents didn’t feel the need to run off and get married right away, but it was important to me. You see, they are both listed on my birth certificate, they are both my parents, but they were strangers in the eyes of the law…my family should have every basic right that is given freely to other couples in the country. No one has the right to tell them who they love. My generation isn’t going to sick back quietly and allow people that we love to suffer discrimination. While I can’t vote yet and I am just getting used to driving, my drive for equality is unstoppable. This is why I love HRC.”
Kathy Griffin rocked the house with screams and hollers.
“Hello gays and people that support them!”
As expected, she cracked some funny jokes, pitched her “My Life on the D List” show, and boasted about her dress for the gay men in the audience, but after the laughter she brought the house to tears when she began talking about the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy. She read letters from a gay man in the military and his partner of 10 years regarding their feelings on the matter. Their words were heart wrenching and a reminder of how truly unfair it is that gays and lesbians are serving a country that they believe in, yet that very country doesn’t believe in them.
Betty Degeneres (Ellen’s mom) introduced Portia de Rossi for the Visibility Award. Portia explained that she felt awkward receiving an award from the HRC when they do so much and thanked them for their work on her behalf.
“I was an extremely closeted actress for the first few years of my career…I wouldn’t even drive down Santa Monica Blvd because I was afraid people would see me through the window and wonder what I was doing in the gay part of town. Back then I thought it was no one’s business that I was gay…but over time I came to realize how selfish that is and how important it is to be visible. Because acting, while it’s a fine profession, isn’t really an important thing to do with your life compared to what you can do to advance acceptance and equality in society. Despite the fact that TV executives tell me that being gay is no longer an issue, it will remain an issue as long as actors continue to hide their sexuality…there are only a handful of actors…brave enough to come out…”
She went on to explain how Proposition 8 changed everything for her; she found herself having discussions with “so-called ‘liberal people’” about marriage: “I developed a knack for turning any question into a discussion about gay marriage. For example, ‘what are you wearing?’ I would say ‘a wedding ring’…talking really is the key ingredient to changing people’s opinions into real lasting change.”
It was a beautiful evening full of truth and a celebration of being one’s self. So to those of you hiding in the shadows, come out, come out, wherever you are. Cheers.