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Fundraiser for Human Rights Campaign unites diverse crowd for a cause

Attendees at the event at Paris Las Vegas include Sen. Harry Reid, Penn & Teller and Holly Madison.

September 06, 2009|Richard Abowitz

The turnout, according to organizers, was undimmed by the recession, and, including a dinner and auction, the event attracted an estimated 600 people and raised more than $175,000 for the Human Rights Campaign, one of the leading gay and lesbian rights organizations in the country.

Offering the mix of frivolous and seriousness that Vegas conventions specialize in, the group's fourth annual fundraiser on the Strip was its most Vegas-themed yet. There were ice sculptures dripping the words "Human Rights." On hand for the red carpet for the auction were showgirls from "Jubilee!" The blond women dressed in red outfits with frilly white collars from "Le Reve" frolicked and danced about sort of in character.

There was a brief hoarse speech, mostly about healthcare reform, by Nevada Sen. Harry Reid. Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, also came direct from Sen. Edward Kennedy's funeral for the banquet, and he was not at all surprised at the warm reception he finds that Vegas offers the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

"There is awareness among the Vegas resorts that our community is a significant market. You go through our magazine, it is one of the biggest gay magazines out there, and you will find a lot of these companies featured in our advertising. . . . . The amount of marketing and reaching out to our community is significant."

Paris Las Vegas, the host casino for the banquet, has a website that markets specifically to lesbian and gay customers. So does the Luxor. Both have full-page advertisements in the campaign's Summer 2009 issue of Equality magazine. In fact, marketing to gays and lesbians has been a successful campaign for a while, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Las Vegas beats San Francisco and loses only to New York as a travel destination for gays and lesbians, according to the authority, which also maintains a website for gay and lesbian tourists. R&R Partners, the marketing firm that the convention and visitors authority contracts with to create advertising campaigns like the "What happens here stay here" commercials, volunteered to promote the banquet.

Solmonese points to supporters such as former Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones, now a high-level executive at Harrah's (owner of Paris) who took her support from her political career and translated it into support for her corporate one. "This isn't just seen as an opportunity to market to the community," Solmonese says. "There are people within these corporations who see this as a modern civil rights struggle."

That attitude seems to translate to Strip performers as well. Certainly, that is how "Peepshow" star Holly Madison saw things. She explained the importance to her of attending, despite having two evening performances at Planet Hollywood to rush off to that same night: "I think it is important to show up for causes you believe in. I am excited to come and show support."

As for the unlikely seeming mix of traditional Vegas showgirls, showgirls in drag, Holly Madison, Penn & Teller and a leader of the U.S. Senate, Solmonese takes that in stride. "Each city has an ebb and flow. In New York you have more people in the financial services industry. In Vegas you get folks from 'Le Reve' and performers from the Strip."

All united by a cause.

DJ AM tribute

Walking into the Palms on Friday night you could still see the marquee for DJ AM's appearance at the Rain nightclub scheduled for that night. In fact, his death in New York had been reported earlier in the day, and at midnight, the time he was to have appeared at Rain, a brief tribute was held for the DJ, 36, also known as Adam Goldstein.

The noisy nightclub was asked to go silent for a minute. A club in Vegas is not the best place for a solemn tribute, and the occasional scream or drunken voice cut through the silence with disconcerting regularity. It was an uncomfortable fit, and it didn't help that after the attempted silence ended, the crowd was told to party like rock stars.

This was a strange if not tasteless way to urge on a crowd, considering DJ AM's admitted long-term battle with drug addiction and the possible drug connections to his death.

But if it is the thought that counts, for a minute a nightclub tried to stop the party to think of one of their own fallen.

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