Really big show, surprises and progress at Equality Utah Allies Dinner

Downtown Salt Lake City was busy on October 21st — the Matrons of Mayhem had a bingo fundraiser at the First Baptist church — and 2,500 people mingled at the new Eccles Theatre on Main Street with a party and a performance.

A block west at the Calvin Rampton Conference Center, unofficially the Salt Palace, a same-size crowd gathered at the annual Equality Utah Allies Dinner in the Grand Ballroom.

This event has always been a big deal, with cocktails and dinner for over 2000, awards, entertainment and brave speeches.

This year was a quantum leap from putting on arguably the leading event for Utah’s LGBT community to putting on an event which spoke to all of Utah’s civic life. It combined showmanship, surprise, pathos, progress and an upbeat attitude. The nigh was capped by headliner, author and activist, Gloria Steinem.

It was run with Prussian Railroad efficiency, moving a crowd of 2,000 from cocktail party to banquet. A big plus for the gay boys was no long lines at the bars.

The big step-up was in production values as sparkling as a Las Vegas show, including a rousing opening dance number with flags, music and dance by the “Every Day Rebels Ensemble” which would have made Madonna proud.

The presentation moved crisply as dinner was served with high quality and meaningful videos introduced by co-chairs Michele Corigliano, Jared Ruga and Juan Carlos Claudio.

The Community Allies Awards went to activist and Weber State University professor Dr. Forrest Crawford, Dr. Rixt Luikenaar, and the Momma Dragons. Crawford set the tone for the excitement to follow by repeating his manta, “Freedom is not quiet.” Luikenaar spoke movingly about reaching out to the transgender community with care and understanding.

Recording artist Tyler Glenn introduced the Mama Dragons, who filled the stage with dozens of the Mamas who have stepped forward to protect their children from religious rejection, bullying, depression and self-destructive behavior.

A surprise appearance by, what at first was thought to be Hillary Clinton, brought the house to its feet. Given the chance that Utah could turn blue in 2016 made, the bit was not so farfetched. A nice touch by Equality.

EU executive director Troy Williams, resplendent in what he called a red kimono, spoke of the group’s mission, successes and plans. He announced the filing of a Federal Court suit to end the Utah State Board of Education’s “No Homo Promo” policy. He described the policy as a free speech issue and detrimental to mainstreaming LGBTQ students into public school system.

Gloria Steinem proved wrong the critics who thought her message might be passé and not relevant to LGBT.

She spent the day meeting with groups and encouraging volunteers at a GOTV event for Utah gubernatorial candidate Mike Weinholtz. Mike and Donna Weinholtz introduced Steinem at the dinner. She drew a bold circle around efforts to insure equality for all races, LGBT people, women, immigrants, religions, people experiencing poverty and other groups, as being a part of her warrant as an activist. She charmed the crowd by expressing delight and surprise about the accomplishments and plans being celebrated. She said she spent dinner rewriting her speech on a napkin, because what she heard from previous speakers was “everything she had planned to say.”

Regardless, her charm and speech inspired some in the audience to call for her to run for president. Telling the crowd she was 82 and wanted to live to 100, but wanted to reserve the right to have fun until then, she demurred.

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