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Whatever happens in November, history will recall this presidential campaign as the point at which the Democrats finally came out about the indispensability of gays and lesbians to the party’s electoral coalition.
It wasn’t long ago that many — perhaps most — Democratic candidates refused to accept donations or public expressions of support from overtly gay organizations. On Wednesday, in front of an enthusiastic sold-out crowd that included some of the entertainment industry’s most powerful LGBT executives, President Barack Obama underscored how much progress has been made for gay rights in just a few decades.
“The fight on behalf of the LGBT community is part of a broader fight for all Americans,” said Obama, who recently announced his support for gay marriage.
Although the president didn’t specifically address marriage equality during his remarks at the gala, his position was implied. “He said it the minute he walked onstage,” J. Edgar screenwriter Dustin Lance Black told The Hollywood Reporter.
Among the Hollywood attendees in the crowd of 600 were CBS CEO Les Moonves and his wife Julie Chen, Will & Grace creator Max Mutchnick and his husband Erik Hyman, producer-director Alan Poul, singer Lance Bass, Participant’s Jonathan King, Hulu’s Jamie Kershaw, Disney’s Ricky Strauss, HBO attorney Jeff Guthrie, Modern Family actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson and his partner Justin Mikita, Malcolm in the Middle producer Todd Holland and his partner singer Scotch Loring, Sean McManus of FIND, entertainment lawyer Dana Perlman, actor Barry Karas, TV producer Daniel Kellison, Star Trek actor George Takei, songwriter-manager Bruce Roberts, producer-manager Eric Ortner, manager Greg Mertz, Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer and Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin.
Some of the guests donated up to $25,000 each to Obama’s re-election effort for a chance to mingle and have their picture taken with the president. TV director Paris Barclay was spotted chatting with Black in a packed photo line in a room off the main ballroom, where about 200 people had gathered. Singer-actress Cher and son Chaz Bono greeted Obama backstage.
While the crowd waited for the president to appear, they were entertained by emcee Ellen DeGeneres and singer Darren Criss of Glee, who agreed to fill in at the last minute for an ailing Pink.
Following the LGBT event, Obama traveled a few miles by motorcade to the Beverly Hills home of Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy and his fiancé David Miller, where 70 donors paid $25,000 apiece to dine with the president. Attendees included actresses Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon, Banana Republic/Gap Inc. president Jack Calhoun, The Simpsons actress Yeardley Smith, Rob and Michelle Reiner, CAA super-agents Bryan Lourd and Kevin Huvane, HBO executive Michael Lombardo and partner Sonny Ward, White House decorator Michael Smith, Southern California DNC co-chair John Emerson, Glee actress Jane Lynch and her co-star Criss.
“I will not be singing tonight,” Obama joked after Murphy introduced him.
The Beverly Wilshire gala and subsequent dinner were the largest in a recent series organized on Obama’s behalf by gay rights activists, who have flocked to support him since his forthright endorsement of marriage equality, which many regard as the critical civil rights issue of this era in American politics.
Bill Clinton, who recently has assumed a far more public — if controversial — role in the president’s re-election campaign, was the first Democratic candidate to openly court a gay rights organization, Los Angeles’ Access Now for Gay and Lesbian Equality, which staged a fundraiser on his behalf. Much of the enthusiasm engendered by that 1992 event, however, waned with the Pentagon’s adoption of its Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and passage of the federal Defense of Marriage Act during the Clinton administration.
Such reservations now attach to Obama, for whom gay and lesbian bundlers raised $8 million through March of this year. As veteran political strategist and gay activist David Mixner recently told CNN, “Now the community knows how to raise money and contribute on their own, and we are more than welcome at the table,” alongside such traditional partners in the Democratic coalition as blacks, Latinos, Jews, labor and progressive Catholics.
The two fundraisers were among five the chief executive has scheduled during his current two-day swing through California, which will have hosted 29 presidential fundraisers before Election Day rolls around in November.
Although Obama is all but certain of carrying California, state Democratic officials are hoping his frequent visits to the Golden State will ratchet up turnout and increase the party’s chances of capturing the five congressional seats that would take them one-fifth of the way toward regaining control of the House. According to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission through May, Obama had raised $19 million up to that point — which was before this trip or his celebrated record-setting $15 million fundraiser at George Clooney’s Laurel Canyon home.
Obama flew into San Francisco on Wednesday morning and was accompanied on the flight westward by the Giants’ legendary star Willie Mays. After a brief welcoming ceremony with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, the president traveled 20 minutes by motorcade to the Landmark Tower offices of Salesforce.com, a “cloud computing” company, where he met with 25 donors who paid $35,800 each to take part in a roundtable discussion.
From there, Obama moved on to the historic, wood-paneled Julia Morgan Ballroom in the Merchants Exchange Building, where 270 donors — including Gov. Jerry Brown — paid $5,000 each to lunch on grilled Coho salmon, sea beans, purple artichokes and lemon caper sauce while the president spoke without notes. For many, though, the highlight of the event was Obama’s surprise introduction by the 81-year-old Mays.
The Hall of Fame outfielder first compared his excitement at the election of the first African-American president to that of playing in a World Series, recalling how he stayed up late into last election night, too energized to turn the television off. “We have a man that we want to him back into the White House,” Mays said. “We need him. … I had no idea in my lifetime that we would have an African-American guy in the White House.”
Obama then came onstage and embraced the Giants great, “Willie Mays, everybody,” the president said. “The Say Hey Kid.”
Building on Mays’ remarks — and the entire day’s theme of inclusion — Obama noted the baseball legend’s obvious pleasure over the ride on Air Force One. “As cool as Air Force One is, it is much, much cooler when Willie Mays is with you on the plane.” The chief executive added that he couldn’t have made electoral history as he did without ballplayers like Mays and Jackie Robinson “to lay the groundwork for a more inclusive America.”
Following his dinner at the Murphy-Miller home, Obama stayed in Beverly Hills on Wednesday night. Thursday morning, he will travel by motorcade to the hillside mansion of developer Charles Quarles, president of the L.A.-based Bedford Group, in the affluent, mostly African-American Viewpark neighborhood.
Three hundred donors, many of them members of the city’s African-American business and entertainment elite, have paid $2,500 apiece to breakfast with the president. Former Motown chairman Clarence Avant is a co-host of the Viewpark event. He will be attending with wife Jackie, daughter Nicole, former U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas, and son Alex
On the flight out to California on Wednesday morning, White House press secretary Jay Carney held his daily briefing with reporters aboard Air Force One. Several of the questions focused on continuing Republican criticism of the president’s now-regular attendance at events with Hollywood and Broadway celebrities. “Can I ask you,” one reporter inquired, “about the California fundraisers, in particular? The president is getting a lot of heat over cavorting with showbiz types. Rush Limbaugh is referring to him as “Barack Kardashian,” can you believe. What is your response to that?”
As the press corps chuckled, Carney retorted: “Two words: Donald Trump. Next question.”
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