This annual dinner has been going on for some time, and it's a standout. It brings together so many different people in our LGBT community into one room, it's like a one-stop gay networking shop! Long-time activists, prominent community members, straight allies and the next generation of leaders all mixing and mingling at a "family" reunion. The evening also recognizes outstanding leaders who have worked hard to advance Michigan's LGBT movement.
This year the State Equality Dinner is a standout because the keynote speaker is Cleve Jones. If you are an astute film viewer you will recognize the name from the movie Milk, where a young Cleve Jones is shown working with Harvey Milk in the pioneering days of the gay rights movement. If you are an astute student of LGBT history you will recognize Cleve Jones as the founder of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.
When I was a youngster living in the gay ghetto of Washington, DC, I went to see the Quilt during its display on the National Mall in 1992. I had maybe a mild interest in gay rights issues at the time, but more concern about HIV/AIDS (this was the pre-drug cocktail days, remember). But mostly I was a gay kid more preoccupied with decorating my apartment than engaging with the gay community for more than a night at the bar.
My visit to the AIDS Memorial Quilt was an insane eye-opener about the extent to which AIDS was ravaging the gay world, and a huge early lesson about how many straight friends and family also really deeply cared about what was happening. People were mostly silent as they walked through the acres and acres of quilt panels, looking at highly personal memorial after memorial. Volunteers stood by with boxes of tissue for those who were overcome, which were many - it was impossible not to be moved.
I wish I could say that viewing the Quilt was an immediate call-to-arms for me, but it took a while for me to really start to realize there were things I could personally do to help. It is something I can still remember vividly, though, and when I think about my current interest in working within the LGBT community, that experience is one of the early seeds.
A few years back I was at Common Language bookstore and picked up Cleve Jones' autobiography, Stitching a Revolution. It's a great read full of info about the early gay rights movement, and it shows how the call to action isn't necessarily a deliberate choice, it can simply be a reaction to what we see happening in the world. For the gay historian, the casual activist and even just the curious, it's a recommended read.
You may not be the next Cleve Jones, but you can hear him speak (and maybe meet him) this Saturday night!
State Equality Dinner and Catalyst Awards
Saturday, October 22nd
The Henry, Dearborn (formerly the Ritz-Carlton)
Featuring a VIP reception, silent auction, formal dinner, and an afterglow celebration.
Standard ticket: $150
VIP ticket: $250
Afterglow only: $50 (featuring DJ Jace)
All proceeds benefit the programs of Equality Michigan.Tickets are available at www.equalitymi.org/dinner, or by calling 313-537-7000, x108