Mariela Castro and Barney Frank Accept Awards at the International Equality Dinner
LGBTers and allies donned their snazziest duds for Saturday night’s high-profile Equality Forum International Dinner at the National Museum for American Jewish History (NMAJH) in Old City.
The evening began with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails on the Museum’s ground and lower levels, offering a great chance to gab with guests before heading to the fifth floor for dinner. The rooms were packed tighter than the Woody’s dancefloor on a Saturday night, but I managed to squeeze through the crowd to shake hands and snap a photo with the event’s two main honorees, former Congressman Barney Frank and Cuban civil rights leader — and daughter of President Raul Castro — Mariela Castro.
Frank, who has a reputation for being a bit of a grumpy pants, sort of grumble-grumbled when I asked him for a picture. He may have been perturbed that I intercepted his attempt to grab a drink, but he grinned like a champ when the camera flashed.
Castro, as you can imagine, was surrounded by a small entourage — including her translator, Jesus Perz, who, in that frenzied moment, was just about as hard to understand as she was. I didn’t get much out of my conversation with her, but it went something like, “Washington, Washington, haha, picture?” Flash.
The rest of the crowd was represented by folks from all over the continent and from myriad organizations. Some of my favorite gab sessions were with two board members from Toronto PFLAG, Mikey and Adrian (pictured above), and the evening’s youngest attendee, Pascal Tessier, a Washington Boy Scout who made headlines recently for his demonstration against the BSA’s policy to ban gay members. He and his friend Lucien are pictured below.
When it came time for dinner, the crowd of — I’m guessing — 250 or so had to take turns shuffling into an elevator that took them to the fifth floor. The stairs, for some reason, were off limits. A blast of chilly air greeted me when I walked into the spacious dining room, speckled with around 35 white-table-cloth tables and a rainbow-flag-surrounded stage where the ceremony would soon commence. But the atmosphere was decidedly warmer around the dinner table.
I was seated at a table with Philadelphia City Councilman — and sponsor of the recent historic LGBT Equality bill — Jim Kenney. He regaled us with some stories about his run-ins with celebrities like Jodie Foster (“I love her!”) and Joe Biden, and at one point he did a spot-on interpretation of Harvey Fierstein that sent our whole table into an uproar. He was a fab dinner guest. Other table buddies included the Attic Youth Center’s Tami Sortman, local marketing guru Scott Barnes, Harvey Rice from the Office of the Controller and Eric Neuhaus, a producer of the reality Animal Planet reality show Tanked.
The dinner was quite tasty — especially for one that was catered to such a large room — but this portion of the night was mostly dedicated to what was happening on the stage in the front of the room. Mariela Castro accepted the award for International Ally for LGBT Equality. During her speech, the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) said that she was proud of the work she had done in Cuba for LGBT equality and that she promised to push for gay marriage, poignantly closing with, “We can change the world together.”
Barney Frank was presented the International Role Model Award. The political firebrand took the moment to praise Castro for the work she was doing in Cuba, but said he’d take issue with her if she decided to embrace the repressive governing tactics of her father and uncle, calling Fidel and Raul Castro “among the great betrayers of liberalism and human rights.” He closed turning the spotlight back on himself, saying that, yes, sometimes he’s a role model, but sometimes he’s not. “You just have to make the distinction for yourself.”
When the evening came to a close, attendees spread throughout the city to attend some of the Equality Forum’s official parties, including a Women’s Party at Sisters Nightclub and one for the fellas at iCandy, where our very own Alexander Kacala was there to capture it on film. Stay tuned for his email@example.com.