In the spring of 2012, the gay rights organization the Human Rights Campaign asked Michael Lombardo, then the president of HBO, to host an event for Vice President Joe Biden. Not a fundraiser, mind you — but a meet-and-greet for the vice president to reach out to LGBTQ people in the entertainment industry.
The event was meant to be healing. As President Barack Obama and Vice President Biden sought reelection, Hollywood’s queer community felt that the administration had not done enough. Sure, Obama had signed a bill in 2010 repealing the Clinton administration’s disastrous military policy, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell;” and yes, the following year, Obama had instructed the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act. But for monied LGBTQ people in the entertainment industry — who had supported Obama in 2008, only to see California’s discriminatory Proposition 8 pass during his election — they wanted more from the administration than just rescinding a few hateful policies of the past.
Lombardo, his spouse Sonny Ward and their two children, opened their Los Angeles home to Biden. The vice president arrived, Lombardo tells Variety, and instead of going outside to work the crowd, “He sat down and talked to our kids — and to us — as a human. Totally unguarded, totally present for my kids, in a way that moved us enormously.”
He was so engaged with them, Lombardo remembers, that Biden’s handlers had to say to him, “Enough, Joe,” prompting him to keep moving to the group of grownups waiting to meet him outside.
On May 6, 2012, shortly after the event at their home, Ward received a text from his aunt in Mississippi, saying they should turn on “Meet the Press.” David Gregory had asked Biden whether the administration was reevaluating same-sex marriage. Biden said he deferred to Obama, but went on to mention “Will & Grace,” and warmly told the story of meeting Lombardo and Ward’s kids. What it comes down to, Biden said, is simple: “Who do you love?”
With that one extemporaneous anecdote, Biden had not only gotten ahead of Obama on the same-sex marriage issue, but lapped much of the Democratic Party establishment. Three days later, Obama rushed out his own announcement in an interview with Robin Roberts, telling her that he too supported gay marriage.
Lombardo, now president of global television at Entertainment One, stayed in touch with Biden, supporting his 2020 candidacy when few in the entertainment industry did, and hosted another event at his home early in the primaries. “Our kids are much older now, and he is still Joe Biden — he spent time with them,” Lombardo says. “They connected with him in a real way.”
He sees Biden as the antidote for the toxicity of the Trump years.
“I think his morality, humanity and authenticity are rare,” Lombardo says. “After four years of what we’ve seen in Washington, all of those qualities are what we desperately need of right now.”