conversion therapy ban announced at hrc gala

Gov. Cuomo steals the show at star-studded HRC Gala Dinner with announcement on total New York ban on conversion therapy. However, the specter of Secretary Clinton and corporate America leave existential questions to be asked and answered in the LGBTQIA+ community.

(L – R) HRC President Chad Griffin with Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce
(L – R) HRC President Chad Griffin with Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce

On a Saturday evening in the Waldorf Astoria ballroom in New York City, stars of screen, sport and social media came out in support of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and their continued battle in the fight for equality. Sigourney Weaver (Alien Anthology, Political Animals, Prayers for Bobby), Bill T. Jones (Artistic Director, New York Arts Live) and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo were all honored for their work in, and supporting, the LGBTQIA+ community.

Gov. Cuomo stole the show with an announcement that he would use the executive powers of his office to make a historic ban on conversion therapy for LGBTQIA+ youth in the state of New York – the first state to do so – by prohibiting public and private insurers from covering the practice. In a powerful speech Gov. Cuomo said, “New York is the laboratory of the American experiment in democracy” and “where New York goes others follow.”

In a reference to a number of Republican candidates currently vying for delegates in the state primaries, he said that they espouse that “differences are the threat” and that this is a “dangerous, dangerous message” to be putting out. Gov. Cuomo took the time to laud praise on HRC, it’s staff and President Chad Griffin calling HRC a “fighter and a leader” and “indispensable in the fight for equality.”

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo

Credit where credit is due to HRC, the organization has undoubtedly fought for LGBTQIA+ rights and made visible LGBTQ issues across America. However, the discomfort some in the community may find in being associated with an organization backed by a room full of corporate behemoths, and which has recently decided to back Democratic presidential candidate Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Presidency of the United States is one that has many in the community scratching their heads.

In HRC President Chad Griffin’s gala speech he stated that “we need to elect a pro-equality president and fight every day until she sits in the White House,” in reference to the former Secretary of State. Building on this Griffin acclaimed, “Hillary is our champion.” Although the tables in the ballroom broke out in near unanimous applause, in other quarters Secretary Clinton has been called out for her uncertain relationship with the LGBTQIA+ community, in particular on the issue of marriage equality which in the past she has made remarks against.

Although skepticism by some in the community may persist, her very public backing of marriage equality in an HRC video from 2013 has nailed her colors to the mast. If successful in her candidacy to be nominated the Democratic presidential candidate she will undoubtedly be held to account by the LGBTQIA+ electorate of America – an accountability that can only be positive.

Outside of the LGBTQIA+ community wider criticism of Secretary Clinton has focused on financial donations her presidential campaign has received from Wall Street and corporate America, with some claiming she is “in their pocket.” The same observation can be made when looking at HRC who are financially supported by a similar set of companies that have a somewhat dubious record when it comes to ethics and equality.

The management-consulting firm Accenture were honored on the night at the gala with HRC’s Corporate Equality Award for the work they have done in making their workplaces a more safe, equal and open place for their LGBTQIA+ staff.

The existential question is whether the American LGBTQIA+ community can level with being backed by corporate funds, in exchange for providing sometimes exploitative companies with the opportunity for positive exposure and CSR whilst they shoot up the HRC Corporate Equality Index?

British pop singer Jess Glynne
British pop singer Jess Glynne

The night ended with a performance from British pop singer Jess Glynne with the room clapping and dancing along in celebratory fashion to her hit single “Rather Be.” This was an apt title for a night that in part posed challenging questions to the LGBTQIA+ community about HRC’s association with Secretary Clinton and corporate America. One of those being: “where would we rather be?”