President Obama told a Beverly Hills gathering of gay and lesbian donors from show biz, politics and activist orgs that the pursuit of equal rights “is just part of a broader fight on behalf of all Americans.”
What he didn’t mention in his remarks on Wednesday was he recent announcement that he supports same-sex marriage, but to many who were there, it was readily apparent.
As screenwriter Dustin Lance Black put it, the extended standing ovation that came when Obama appeared in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel ballroom was message enough. “He stepped on stage and said, ‘Here I am,’ and we said, ‘We heard you.'”
The event drew many of Hollywood’s highest profile gay and lesbian performers and industry figures, as well as other stars and politicos who are starting to engage in the campaign.
The sold-out event of about 600, drawing stars like Cher and her son, Chaz Bono, cast members from “Glee” and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, was moved to the bigger at Obama made his announcement last month that he had evolved and supports same-sex marriage. Obama followed it with a $25,000-per-person dinner at the Beverly Hills home of “Glee” co-creator Ryan Murphy and fiancee David Miller, with Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, Jane Lynch, HBO’s Michael Lombardo and Gap President Jack Calhoun.
All told, more than $3 million was expected to be raised.
At the Beverly Wilshire event, Obama emphasized his administration’s accomplishments, most prominently ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
He devoted a portion of his speech to putting gay and lesbian rights in the context of American history, saying the country has seen a “constant progression toward including more and more people in the American dream.” The crowd twice broke into chants of “Four more years!” as Obama spoke before a gigantic American flag.
Vito Imbasciani, a urological surgeon who served in the military for 26 years but had to conceal his husband until the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, introduced Obama. The President referred several times to Imbasciani’s story, as well as to one of a straight service member he met at a Honolulu Marine base who thanked him for the repeal because “I didn’t think it was right.”
Ellen DeGeneres and “Glee” star Darren Criss entertained the crowd before Obama took the stage.
A brief awkward moment came when Obama talked of the First Lady’s appearance on DeGeneres’ show. He noted DeGeneres was teased by the First Lady for not beating her in pushups but that DeGeneres “claims Michelle didn’t go all the way down.” It drew naughty laughter from this crowd, before he said, “Michelle outdoes me in pushups as well.”
Also at the event were Les Moonves and wife Julie Chen, Peter Roth, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Paris Barclay, Lance Bass, George Takei, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, White House Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, and Adam Umhoefer, executive director of the American Foundation for Equal Rights.
The cochairs of the event were actor Barry Karas and attorney Dana Perlman.
Some of those who were there spoke of a boost in enthusiasm.
Black said that “it is important that we get gay and lesbian people motivated. I think he did it.”
He added that he appreciated that Obama did not just focus on LGBT issues, but that he “made it about all of us out there.”
“I didn”t think we talked down to. He talked about the fact that we are all interconnected” and put the pursuit of LGBT rights in context.
Tim Robinson, a small business owner, who attended with his partner, attorney Bob Cohen, said that although Obama did not make mention of same-sex marriage, “his presence at this event said more than needs to be said. That would be stating the obvious.”
“I was moved in a way I have not been moved before,” said Robinson, who added that he and Cohen plan to offer up their home for another fundraising event.
The Courage Campaign’s Rick Jacobs said that for a President who has been knocked for being too “cerebral,” he was moved by Obama’s remarks, which he said were “spoken from his soul and he really connected.”
Obama’s complete remarks are below.