When I was in sixth grade, I won an Army calendar in a neighbor's front-yard carnival staged to raise money for the Jerry Lewis telethon. (I know. Please keep your jealousy to yourselves.)
But Fortune just couldn't stop smiling on me, because—hot on the heels of that free calendar—Eric and I attended the Equality Illinois Gala last night, and in between celebrating Illinois' recent addition of GLBT people to the populations protected by the Illinois Human Rights Act and honoring the politicians and activists who got the bill signed into law, there was a drawing for two free first-class round-trip tickets to anywhere in the US courtesy of our friends at Orbitz … AND I WON THEM! WOO-HOO!
(The winning doesn't stop there, though. I hate to sound all braggy, but there's a very good chance I'll be clearing space off my mantle* in the next month to make room for the Academy Award I'm all but guaranteed to win.)
*This is not really true, because I don't have a mantle.
But enough about me. Let's talk about last night's Gala, which was totally freakin' cool. It was in the biggest, most bad-ass ballroom at the Hilton, and I think I heard there were 1,300 people there, all in tuxes and bugle beads and related finery. (It was like prom, only with the men getting the manicures and the women wearing the rented tuxes*.) And at $250 a head, the event raised at least … um … well, I don't want to hog all the math fun, so I'll let you dig out your calculators.
*This is only kind of true. I didn't see any women in male drag, but I did see tons of men (including your intrepid protagonist) who were wearing actual, custom-tailored tuxes (and some bugle-beaded dresses) that clearly came straight from their very own closets. (I also saw some women who at first glance looked like smokin' hot men. But I'm not ready to talk about that right now.)
I'd never been to one of these foo-foo gala fund-raisers, and I had a blast. First of all, I've lived here long enough now that I know (or at least recognize) a lot of gay Chicagoans. And Eric and sexy little Brad, our table captain, knew everyone else. So I was never at a loss for friendly conversation.
Second of all, I was wearing a freakin' tux in a freakin' gorgeous ballroom with 1,300 (well-manicured) people who were all positively giddy with elation over our recent victory over homophobic hatred. (Oh, and there's also that winning-the-grand-prize-in-the-Orbitz-drawing thing.) How could the evening NOT have been a blast?
Well, there were two ways: The DJ played some strange music. And both desserts I tried at the foo-foo dessert bar all but made me gag. But if forgotten '80s pop and Crisco-and-sand pastries were my biggest worries last night, I don't have much to complain about now, do I?
Actually, I did have one more worry: As we sat there grinning and clapping and reveling in our victory over hatred, I realized there were just-as-motivated, just-as-willing-to-cough-up-the-dough crowds out there ready to congregate and raise money to achieve nothing better than the illogical, malicious, intentionally hurtful goal of more firmly classifying gay people as second-class citizens in the eyes of the law and our nation's many constitutions. When we have children dying in squalor and poverty, people with nowhere to live but the streets, half of our marriages falling apart, educational standards that make us the laughingstock of less-developed nations, a deficit higher than Dubya's blood-alcohol level when he was caught driving drunk, and preventable conditions like obesity and heart disease killing people and crippling our health-care system, I will never understand why people will work so hard and spend so much money to attack gay people on the streets and in the courts and in our very relationships for no other reason than to make hurtful, misguided attempts to "solve" a non-existent problem.
And as I sat there last night, applauding our accomplishments and tearing up over stories of our hard-won victories—and feeling profoundly humbled in the presence of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, award recipients last night who founded the Daughters of Bilitis in 1972 and whose 50-year relationship has literally helped drive gay people's crusade for basic equality—I felt sick. And angry.
We have a long road ahead of us to educate people on the realities of homosexuality and to get them to stop working so hard to hate us. And after last night, anybody's attempts to treat me as anything but equal are only going to fuel me to fight back harder.