The stars come out for opening night at the Manifest Equality exhibit in LA


A recent poll by CBS News and The New York Times asked Americans if they support allowing “homosexuals” to serve in the U.S. military. Fifty nine percent of respondents said they did. The same poll asked Americans if they support allowing "gay men and lesbians" to serve. Seventy percent of respondents were in favor of that.

You’ve got to spin it to win it, folks.

Image is everything, especially here in sunny California. The gay marriage movement is in need of a serious facelift. Who better to assist in the procedure than Yosi Sergant, the man who brought Shepard Fairey‘s ubiquitous Barack Obama "Hope" poster to the masses. With partners Apple Via and Jennifer Gross, Sergant assembled the massive exhibit Manifest Equality.

About 200 artists were showcased. They ranged from the relatively unknown to the heavy hitters of the current art scene. The week-long exhibit was held in a now vacant but appropriately named former Big Lots discount store. The interior was constructed to look like fragments of a house (divided), with art hanging on the walls. The Declaration of Independence was boldly painted around the perimeter of the entire space. History was strongly incorporated into every part of the exhibit, giving it a universal and heightened feel.

Although it is a response to Prop 8 in California, Manifest Equality’s mission is "full and equal rights for all Americans with no exceptions." To get back to the subject of public relations, I think that’s a statement more Americans are likely to get behind.

The opening night gala on March 3 was a star-studded affair. Heather Graham was on hand to introduce Ben Lee‘s set.

Marisa Tomei introduced Cleve Jones (Jones is the man portrayed by Emile Hirsch in Milk). A powerful gay rights activist for decades, Jones also designed the world famous AIDS quilt. An amazing orator, he delivered a speech (see clip below) that had the crowd enraptured.

The great, fun band Fitz and The Tantrums performed several songs. The crowd, including Marisa Tomei danced wildly.

Oh right, the art. I can tell you that most of it was really interesting, beautiful, etc., but it would probably make more sense for you to go to and see for yourself. You can even buy it! (Browse the gallery here.)

Heather Graham milled about taking photos with countless fans. I approached her and asked if I could take her photo for AfterEllen and she declined. Hmm. Maybe I didn’t look super credible wielding a Canon point and shoot in one hand and a cocktail in the other while rambling about lesbian visibility. Marisa Tomei and her boyfriend Logan Marshall-Green happily obliged me. So there, Heather.

Of the approximately 800 attendees, I’d guess about half were gay. I talked to a number of straight married couples who’d come out to lend their support. This is what we’ve been missing. It’s all fine and good to hold rallies in West Hollywood, but at the end of the day, ten percent of the population isn’t going to win a majority vote without help.

As asinine as it is that we are voting on civil rights in the first place, for now we’d better face the reality that we are running a campaign. Fortunately, Obama’s coolest guys are now on board. That gives me Hope.

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