Press

Task Force D.C. Leadership Awards honors U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., Annie Proulx and Food & Friends

Date: 
May 07, 2006

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WASHINGTON, May 7 — A 450-plus crowd turned out May 6 for the Task Force’s D.C. Leadership Awards honoring U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Pulitzer Prize winner and Brokeback Mountain author Annie Proulx and Food & Friends, an organization that provides critical support to people facing life-challenging illnesses. The event — the first full-fledged dinner the Task Force has done in D.C. in 13 years — raised nearly $200,000.

U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. was honored for his longstanding commitment to justice and equal rights, including his work in passing a transgender-inclusive hate crimes measure in the House. Conyers managed the opposition on the floor of the House to a court-stripping bill and the Federal Marriage Amendment, and successfully led the case for transgender equality by writing a hate crimes bill that explicitly includes transgender people, persuading his colleagues to support the measure and working with the minority leaders and his colleagues to get the measure passed in the House.

Conyers told the filled ballroom at the beautiful Omni Shoreham Hotel that he was “proud to come here tonight, and proud to stand with you.” He noted the progress the LGBT rights movement has already made, and that it is gaining more and more support.

As for the oft-divisive political climate, Conyers said: “What we’re looking for is a different way.” A way that embraces the dignity of all people, rather than a way that seeks to conquer and divide. Conyers told the crowd he would proudly display his Leadership Award in his office.

U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold was one of 14 senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act, and he voted against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. He’s a leading voice against the Federal Marriage Amendment. He has taken a stand for marriage equality, with no equivocation.

“He recognizes that all discrimination is immoral, and has spoken about the immorality of demonizing any class of Americans in order to win cheap political points at the polls,” said Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman in introducing the senator. "This is exactly the kind of moral and principled leadership our nation so desperately needs today.”

Feingold spoke of his state’s progressive history, notably that it was the first state in the country to have a statewide law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation.

So, he said, it “came as a shock” to him when the state Legislature moved to enshrine discrimination into the state constitution by sending to voters a measure banning marriage equality and civil unions. Wisconsinites will vote on the proposed amendment this November.

Feingold blasted the measure, saying it should be opposed because it is wrong, and “on the wrong side of history.” He ended his remarks by reciting lyrics from the song, “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” sung by the great folksinger Pete Seeger:

“Freedom's name is mighty sweet
And soon we're gonna meet
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on”

Both Conyers and Feingold received multiple standing ovations.

Annie Proulx, author of Brokeback Mountain, traveled from her home in Wyoming, and she accepted her award with plain-spoken wit and grace.

She pointed out that Wyoming comprises 97,000 square miles, “and its population is about the size of this room,” which generated laughter.

“I’ve heard a lot about the grassroots tonight,” Proulx went on to say. “I know about the grassroots. I’ve been writing about them for a long time.” Removed places, places that are “big, mean and tough.”

Places that many LGBT people originally hailed from, but left for the big city, “because they don’t want to upset the ancient traditions” of rural life, in those harsher landscapes and frontiers. “And that’s too bad,” she lamented, and then encouraged: “If any of you are contemplating a move to the country, do it.”

Food & Friends, a local organization in the D.C. metro area, meanwhile, was honored for its commitment to making sure that people with life-challenging diseases have both the nutrition and friendship they need to survive and thrive. Its award was presented by board member Jerry Clark, who told of his time volunteering for Food & Friends, and event co-chair Sheila Alexander-Reid, who movingly described the assistance her family received from Food & Friends when her father-in-law, Chuck Alexander, was dying of cancer.

“The Alexander family took turns staying by his side, and lovingly cared for this proud man. There was no time for grocery shopping, much less cooking. Food & Friends continued to make deliveries so we could have those final weeks, those final hours, those final precious moments with Chuck,” she said. “To think that Food & Friends does this for over a thousand people on a regular basis is nothing less than phenomenal.”

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.