HRC Gala Speakers Prepare Their Constituents for War in Midterm Elections

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HRC Gala

Saturday night's HRC gala in midtown Manhattan was an unmistakeable call to arms.

The first thing a good field commander does when he’s preparing to take them to war — be it on the battlefield or the Super Bowl— is fire up the troops.

That is exactly what HRC Chairman Chad Griffin seemed to have in mind with this year’s roster of guest speakers at the annual Human Rights Campaign gala held in midtown Manhattan. And they did not disappoint.

Progressives have spent the last year and a half wondering how they lost the election to someone like Donald Trump, and how he managed to win with help of the formerly reliable Democrats of the rust belt, who had been loyalists since FDR’s New Deal. And all of this happened while Hillary Clinton was doing victory laps around her podium in the 2016 debates, scoring points with pundits and practically shouting that only an idiot would vote for Trump over her.

Much has changed since. And, as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo reminded the faithful in attendance Saturday night, victories in a democracy are often fleeting. “These are dark times in this country,” the governor declared, “and what’s even more shocking is how quickly we have gone from a period of outstanding accomplishment in the pursuit of justice to a place of regression, anger and intolerance.”

For those dispirited by the setbacks, he provided a comic aside: “General Grant was a great Civil War general who reportedly liked to drink bourbon a little too much, they say. He would drink after a great defeat to ease the pain, and he would drink after a great victory on the theory that he may be defeated tomorrow. So on that theory, my friends, break out the bourbon.”

Cuomo observed that while things had been better just a short time ago, complacency has consequences. “Yesterday, we had President Obama,” the governor said, “we passed marriage equality, we had record LGBTQ progress. We were defeating intolerance, we were defeating prejudice, we were defeating ignorance — and that’s the real enemy that we oppose.

“But now today we have this president and this Congress who have brought us to the exact opposite position; and we know what they did and we know how they won. They won by fanning the flames of anger. They amplified people’s anxieties. They appealed to people’s worst instincts — to fear people who are different, because differences threaten us.”

The governor allowed that LGBTQ rights are in peril and that some in the country have taken a moment to reconsider how much diversity is too much in American society. But, he concluded, “the good news is, the American people are better than this administration. They are more accepting; they are more compassionate. And the better news is: Ultimately hope defeats fear, inclusion defeats exclusion and love defeats hate. That is what this is all about.”

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand followed the governor to tout a bipartisan bill she is sponsoring alongside Arizona Republican John McCain to protect transgender service members from discrimination. Gillibrand related a personal anecdote about a transgender child she encountered in school and said, “when President Trump looks at our transgender troops as valueless, and when his party tries to demonize this boy and every other like him, this arrogance and bigotry provokes a fury in me that will not subside.”

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer finished adding fuel to the fire by calling out the current Oval Office occupant on a personal level. “We are dealing,” he said, “with probably the most dangerous and worst man in the presidency we have ever had in the history of this nation.”

True to the revving-up-the-base theme of the night, Schumer’s remarks ended on a hopeful note. “We are going to win this fight,” the senator said. “I have never seen such activism in the streets; such protests and ‘resist,’ and e-mail and calling and writing. I have never seen that except in the Vietnam war days. So we can do it, with you.”

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Last modified: February 5, 2018

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