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When the abortion ban passed in Alabama, actress Lora Lee Gayer posted on social media asking if the Broadway community wanted to get together and do something and thus, the Hysterical Womxn’s Society was born.
About two months later, the organization hosted its first event on Monday night at New York’s The Cutting Room to raise money for the New York Civil Liberties Union and the National Network for Abortion Funds.
“We are a society of people whose individual talents and strengths are uniting to protect women’s and humans rights,” said Gayer, an actress who has starred on Broadway in such shows as Follies and Holiday Inn. “Our society was born out of the abortion bands but this will not be our only fight. We will be fundraising and campaigning for candidates, fighting and supporting our trans friends, and actually fighting to have maternity leave on Broadway.”
Comedian Judy Gold hosted the event and opened the evening by lambasting President Donald Trump. “We all have to get that orange fuckface out of office,” she said, and joking that she starts every morning telling herself not to look at her phone.
The evening raised more than $55,000, which included funds from a live auction, with items like a meet-and-greet with Tina Fey at Mean Girls, tickets and a backstage tour to Beetlejuice on Broadway and tickets to see Cher at Madison Square Garden.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU, spoke about the importance of abortion rights, and her speech received an unprompted, though welcome, call and response from the audience.
“We will not let them turn back the clock on women’s rights,” Lieberman said. “We will not let them turn the 21st century into The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Emmy nominee Betty Gilpin wrote a poetic, impassioned speech about the importance of people being able to control their own bodies. Calling herself a “Portlandia sketch of a woke white woman,” the actress spoke about the “fecal tornado of the time we’re living in” and how the people who came before this generation paved the way.
“It’s 2019 and the glorious, necessary femme-pocalyse is she-sploding day after Fallopian Day,” Gilpin said. “We modern braveheart McDormands had little to do with it. Centuries of women before us whispering ‘no’ into their hoop skirts, then growling it into their bloomers, then screaming it bra-less into their megaphones infected every next little baby girl with eyes wider and wider to her own shackled potential.”
Broadway performers Caissie Levy, who stars as Elsa in the stage version of Frozen; Alysha Umphress; Denée Benton, who currently stars as Eliza in Hamilton; Ali Stroker, who became the first performer in a wheelchair to win a Tony for Oklahoma!; and more performed topical songs on the evening. Levy sang a mashup of “Easy to Be Kind” and “I Believe in Love” from Hair, in which she starred in 2009. Umphress sang Beyoncé’s “If I Were a Boy,” and Benton sang “Sister” from The Color Purple. Stroker belted out “Here’s Where I Stand,” while original Mean Girls stars Erika Henningsen and Ashley Park, who appears in Tales of the City on Netflix, closed the evening with a duet of Daya’s “Sit Still, Look Pretty.” Tony winner Celia Keenan-Bolger also read an essay by playwright Sarah Ruhl.
The medical community also came out to support the first annual gala. Planned Parenthood doctor Meera Shar spoke about the importance of erasing gendered language around reproductive health care, while Dr. Linda Prine spoke about founding the Reproductive Health Access Project, which aims to integrate contraception, abortion and miscarriage care into mainstream medicine.
Actress and writer Ana Nogueira, who has appeared on shows like The Vampire Diaries and The Blacklist, talked publicly for the first time about her abortion. She spoke about the stigma she faced, as a then-30-year-old woman who was pregnant with her new husband’s child, but she wasn’t ready to have a baby and wants to see more narratives like hers.
“I have never once regretted my abortion and I have no shame about it, but women like me — pro-choice women who have had this procedure and lived a life of gratitude for the freedom it afforded them — have been shamed into silence for that gratitude,” said Nogueira. “I hope that is changing. I hope we can move away from propping up victim narratives and into the reality that women of all shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds undergo this procedure.”
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