Shonda Rhimes Talks of ‘Normalizing’ TV at HRC Gala

When a viewer complained last fall that the “gay scenes” on “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder” were “too much,” creator Shonda Rhimes shot back, “There are no GAY scenes. There are scenes with people in them.”

On Saturday, Rhimes was among the honorees at the Human Rights Campaign’s Los Angeles Gala, and she explained her approach to TV as simply trying to be normal.

“I really hate the word ‘diversity,'” she told the crowd. “It is just something other. Something special, like it’s rare. ‘It’s diversity!’ As if there is something unusual about telling stories about women or people of color or LGBT characters on TV. I have a different word. I call it ‘normalizing.’ I make TV look like the world looks.”

That includes, as “Scandal” star Guillermo Diaz noted in presenting the award, showing two men in hot sex scenes, just as shows portray heterosexual couples.

The event at the JW Marriott also featured comedian Dana Goldberg and Mariah Carey, who sang “Hero.”

Lena Dunham presented HRC’s Visibility Award to HBO’s programming president Michael Lombardo, who said that “being recognized for something that it seemingly so simple — living my life honestly and openly — is really the highest achievement I could have hoped for.” Joining Lombardo was his spouse, Sonny Ward, and their two children.

Lombardo recalled a law school professor advising him in the 1980s that he could be successful in his career as long as he never admitted to anybody that he was gay — at a time when few professionals did.

Instead, Lombardo recalled: “I had this fantasy I could do it a different way. I didn’t know how and I didn’t know when, but the thought of living two lives, a personal and professional, just felt like a death sentence to me.”

He left a large corporate law firm and instead got a job at HBO in the 1980s, and “what I found there was a group of people just like me — refugees of old boy corporate cultures. …I found a home where I could breathe.”

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) talked of the legislative and legal road of recognition of same-sex nuptials, with the Supreme Court poised to rule on a case that could mean nationwide marriage equality. Franken recalled then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoing a same-sex marriage bill in 2005, giving his reason as “something I guess about the sanctity of marriage.” The comment drew some laughs, although Schwarzenegger’s stated reason at the time was that the issue should be left up to voters or judges.

HRC President Chad Griffin noted that the fight for equality will be far from over if the Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, as he promised to push for a federal non-discrimination bill.

“Make no mistake, this will be the biggest legislative battle in the history of this movement,” he said.

Opponents of LGBT rights, he noted, have been regrouping, with some 70 “anti-LGBT” bills pending in two dozen states.

(Pictured: HBO’s Michael Lombardo, screenwriter Shonda Rhimes, and Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin at the 2015 Human Rights Campaign Los Angeles Gala Dinner)

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