There are reminders along the way that state what my exact purpose in this business is supposed to be.
Yet, there are times when the balance between purpose and "being honored" needs to be achieved. This was one of those times.
If you asked me fifteen years ago if I would attend an event sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, I would think you were completely mad. Living in the Washington, D.C. area, I viewed the HRC as a political action committee in the District with a fancy office building, a retail store on Connecticut Avenue NW who loved to pander to the LGBT community. I get the fact that they do what they do because otherwise, we would either run scared or amok in the struggle for equality for all citizens.
Though my work with Lavender Magazine, my tone has changed. After meeting and knowing some of the local HRC folks, I view them as a source or a balancer in my automotive work. They provide key information through the Corporate Equality Index to make sure which companies I would cover would welcome me as an openly gay automotive writer covering their products or corporate activities. I know for a fact that some of the local HRC folks actually read my work on Lavender – and on this site.
Recently, my editor at Lavender, Andy Lien, invited me to attend this year's HRC Twin Cities Gala Dinner at the Minneapolis Convention Center as her guest. I was deeply honored. It was a chance to represent the magazine, as well as a member of the LGBT community (more, specifically, the Bear subculture). It would be a way to make amends to my criticism of the HRC a decade-and-a-half ago while working on the other side of the Potomac from its headquarters.
So, I attended. It was an honor to be invited. It spoke volumes to the work that has been going on for the past eleven years covering this industry within the context of the LGBT media.
But, why would you want a schlep like me to come to an HRC soiree?
Understand this: I am an automotive writer – albeit a gay one. We are not supposed to be political by any means. Some of us do via Facebook, Twitter, etc. Politics should never be editorialized unless there is context in the subject matter we are involved with. In the cases of the Chevrolet Volt being used as a political football or the volleyball match over the TARP fund recipients by both Presidential campaigns, these are items that need to be covered the best we can ascertain with fact finding as the only guide towards achieving balanced reporting.
However, we should look back at history when gay automotive scribes and enthusiasts were not welcomed at the table. Because we did not fit into the values of a country that reflected back at corporate headquarters, our access to the industry was limited. Things have changed with the times. Not only does the automotive industry understand the importance of the economic power of the LGBT community – they understand the opinions of those of us in the media corps.
Still, what does covering the automotive industry and writing vehicle reviews for an LGBT publication have anything to do with attending an HRC gala? What does rubbing shoulders with United States Senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), U.S. Representatives Keith Ellison (D-MN), Betty McCollum (D-MN) and other members of the political community have to do with what is going on in Detroit, Munich, Tokyo, Paris, Moscow, Shanghai and everywhere else automotive decisions are being made?
One question remained here: Would I rather see T.R. Knight speak in front of a well-dressed crowd – or, Sergio Marchionne, Dan Ackerson, Carlos Ghosn, Martin Winterkorn, and so forth? Heck, I would pay to see Ralph Gilles speak somewhere!
I will say that it was a privilege to meet Zach Wahls as a testament that you can be raised by a same-gender coupled household and do extraordinary things on this planet. It was also a privilege to hear both Craig and Calvin Stowell talk about their efforts in New Hampshire to ensure marriage equality exists in their home state. It was great to see the Reitan family again – meeting their son Jacob for the first time – along with Tammy Aaberg, who continues to keep the beacon of hope alight two years after Justin's suicide.
What kept me in my seat was not the speeches or the stories. It was the fact that automotive industry and related businesses have beacons within the HRC. It is comforting to know that Lexus, BP, Shell, Chevron and Nationwide Insurance are national corporate sponsors of the HRC. Their involvement in the HRC, as well the organization's Corporate Equality Index, help make my job easier in the short and long run. That I can bank on.
It also drew my attention to related issues that fit within my confines of my automotive punditry. Issues that may not show up on the campaign literature of your local candidates. While the loudest cause in the room may be of marriage equality – especially here in Minnesota – perhaps we should discuss the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that has been popping in and out of Congress with our candidates? It prompted me to consider looking into this further as it relates to the work I do with all three outlets I write for. Perhaps it is something you should ask the candidates running for Congress and the United States Senate about.
It is the balance I spoke of before that keeps me on my toes. Again, I reiterate my being honored to attend this event. It may not be in my scope of what I do in this business, but it was my privilege to take the fall for – or, rather, represent – the automotive media corps that evening.
Maybe I should get back to talking about what is important again…
All photos by Randy Stern