Organizing for ENDA at the Miss’d America Pageant
February 24, 2010
Two weekends and three snows ago, I again headed to southern New Jersey to organize around the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). I planned to leave Washington D.C. on Saturday and drive to Atlantic City to attend the city’s much anticipated Miss’d America Pageant. The Miss’d America Pageant began in 1993 as a day-after spoof and AIDS fundraiser to the famous Miss America Pageant. The drag show and nonprofit fundraiser has returned this year after a five-year hiatus. The city has whole-heartedly embraced Miss’d America which took place on January 31st in the famous Boardwalk Hall. The city, its tourism board and the casinos – like Harrah’s and Trump Entertainment who were sponsors – have been quick to support the return of the pageant. With the lagging economy and gambling proceeds down over the last couple of years, marketing to the LGBT community has become an important priority in a city which historically has had a vibrant gay culture. Atlantic City is trying to establish itself as the LGBT destination and is looking to our community to help revitalize the local economy. HRC has worked countless hours in New Jersey to pass ENDA once for all. I have made countless allies in the area through our ongoing efforts to garner support in Congress from their local representatives. The Greater Atlantic City GLBT Alliance, who was THE driving force behind the return of Miss’d America, has identified tremendous amounts of ENDA support in the city. After a long week and relaxing Friday evening at home in DC, I woke up Saturday morning to hit the road for AC to find an unusually snow covered District. I stubbornly packed my luggage, loaded the car and drove to HRC HQ to pick up more material. After a couple hours in the office, I finally surrendered myself to the fact that we were indeed having a major snow event. Instead I headed out Sunday morning and between the storm and traffic, I FINALLY arrived Sunday evening in Atlantic City. I felt like I had a climbed a mountain just to get there. The return of the Miss’d America Pageant was a HUGE success. People traveled from all over the Northeast to see this year’s event. The Village Voice’s Michael Musto, one of my favorite New Yorkers, was one of the pageant’s celebrity judges. The famous Carson Kressley from Bravo’s hit show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was the pageant’s host. The evening’s events took place with a pre-event reception at the Trump Plaza Hotel which was an absolute blast. I had the great honor to meet New Jersey State Senator James Whalen and was very pleased to have the opportunity to thank him personally on behalf of HRC for his vote IN FAVOR of marriage equality this past January in the New Jersey State Senate. After a brief HRC hello at the pre-event reception, I headed over to Boardwalk Hall to setup my action table. I had a great space with HRC stickers, buttons, but most importantly our No Excuses action folders. I love working our tables and spreading the HRC word. People were surprised to hear of the lack of employment discrimination protections for LGBT Americans in this country. It was so good to see old friends and allies stop by my table to support our work. Of course it was a great opportunity to meet new friends too. The show was a riot. Miss Michelle Dupree was crowned this year’s Miss’d America and is a class act all the way. Michelle is a Registered Nurse, Clinical Educator and the proud, single adoptive father of a 15 month old boy named Anthony Jack. After the show, participants and attendees alike headed to the after party at Caesars Atlantic City where we danced the night away. I made serious headway in finding more allies who would speak up to their members of Congress to pass ENDA once and for all. I want to whole heartedly acknowledge and congratulate the GLBT Alliance for their mutual success and the lasting legacy they have given Atlantic City with the Miss’d America Pageant. I can’t wait for next year. It is going to be an even bigger and better event with every year that comes.