More than 1,200 people attended the Human Rights Campaign's annual Illinois gala, themed "Bridges" last Saturday night at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Political keynote speaker was U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, with the keynote address delivered by openly gay former major league baseball player Billy Bean. Awards were presented to American Airlines and Mildred's Circle of Howard Brown Health Center, which raises funds for lesbian healthcare issues at HBHC.
Political activists and lobbyists were joined by politicians including: U.S. Rep. Lane Evans, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, U.S. Rep. Rod Blagojevich; state Reps. Rosemary Mulligan, Harry Osterman, Sara Feigenholtz, Lauren Beth Gash and Larry McKeon; Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley; County Treasurer Maria Pappas; and Alds. Mary Ann Smith and Eugene Schulter. Also attending were several candidates, including Mike Kelleher, who is running for Congress from Bloomington.
Co-chairs for the benefit were Tracy Benson and Rod Grozier, and performer Michele Balan of New York provided comic relief. Charles "CC" Brown performed the opening number, appropriately "A Bridge Over Troubled Water," in keeping with the night's theme. Greg Hillhouse and David Mayer co-chaired the auction, and a high-ticket raffle included the chance to win a Volkswagen donated by Todd Wilkins ( nephew of Chicago lesbian businesswoman Jan Dee ) and his West Suburban Auto Group.
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During his keynote, Durbin received loud applause when he stated that Al Gore was the best choice for U.S. president, especially when it comes to passing hate-crimes and employment legislation, and in appointing progressive judges to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Bean told about his double life while playing major league baseball, and how he decided last year, during an interview about a restaurant he opened with his lover, to simply state the truth. "I challenge everybody to embrace the opportunity of being an example to people who don't have role models," he said.
Video highlights of people fighting for gay rights were featured throughout the evening. The opening segment had interviews with Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund Attorney Heather Sawyer; Rev. Gregory Dell; and the alternative family of Karl Warren and Joysun Howard, and their foster youth Mercedes Blaque, a transgendered teen who had no place to turn until the couple opened their Southwest Side home to Blaque.