Turns out Hillary Clinton, the once and perhaps future presidential candidate, is a Queer As Folk fan—at least according to Michelle Clunie, a star of the Showtime series that aired in the early 2000s and has become iconic in the LGBT community.
“I met Hillary after I campaigned for her,” Clunie said Wednesday night. “She was very sweet with me. I was introduced as a Queer As Folk actress and she said, ‘I thought I recognized you.'”
Clunie spoke at a Washington, DC, fundraiser for Ready for Hillary, a super-PAC formed to support Clinton’s possible 2016 presidential run. The group, which bills itself as a grassroots effort (donations are capped at $25,000) to encourage Clinton to launch a campaign, hosted the event, dubbed “Out & Ready for Hillary,” to raise money and gather voter information from the LGBT community. “This is a long fight, we have a long way to go before 2016,” Clunie told the crowd of 300 Clinton fans, about three-quarters of them men. “Hillary hasn’t thrown her hat into the ring but we have to show up for her.”
Ready for Hillary aims to be a younger, hipper super-PAC than the ones that defined the 2012 election. To that end, the group moved uptown from the hotel ballrooms that host stodgier DC fundraisers and rented Town Danceboutique, a gay club on the bustling U Street corridor. Town is perhaps best known for its Friday Bear Happy Hour—think hairy humans, not Winnie or Smokey—during which barrel-chested men socialize, often shirtless, over $5 personal-size pitchers of beer. (Andrew Sullivan listed the weekly event as one of the things he most missed about DC when he moved to New York.) Other evenings, the club transforms into a sweaty mess of dancing, and on 18+ night it swarms with the lithe fresh-out-the-closet set, out on the town for a night of top-40 club bangers.
Elements of that vibe persisted at Wednesday’s fundraiser. A bouncer checked everyone’s ID before they entered to make sure they were over 18. The club’s standard box of “Fuk!t” packs—goodie bags of condoms and lube, a standard offering at gay clubs in DC, a city that has been hit harder than most by the AIDS epidemic—sat at the entrance alongside copies of local LGBT publications Metro Weekly and the Washington Blade. Inside, a disco ball cast light across the otherwise dimly lit space as dance music and classic disco blared from the speakers. Above the packed bar, three giant screens cycled through images of Clinton and tweets and Facebook messages about Ready for Hillary. A line of Hillary enthusiasts queued up to get their pictures taken with a cardboard cutout of Clinton.
“Have another drink,” Peter Rosenstein, a local activist, warned the crowd 10 minutes before the program began. “Programs are always better with alcohol.”
That program kicked off with a hagiographic montage video set to Clinton’s 2008 concession speech. Then Lisa Changadveja, Ready for Hillary’s LGBT Americans Director, took the stage. Since it was founded last January, Ready for Hillary’s main function has been building a massive database of Clinton fans that could be sold to Clinton’s campaign should she run. Signing up LGBT Americans has been a central component of that mission. Ready for Hillary’s goal is to get information from around 100,000 LGBT voters, Changadveja told me in an interview last week. That’s an ambitious goal, but it’s achievable: The super-PAC’s main list of Facebook supporters—gay, straight, and other—already includes about 1.6 million people.
“Along with signing up people and building a big list,” Changadveja told me, “we also want to train volunteers on how to do a house party, how to do a low-dollar fundraiser, how to table at a pride, so if and when Hillary decides to run in 2016, these people are already trained and ready to go.” She plans to travel to Houston, Kansas, Missouri, and Phoenix in the next few months, and Ready for Hillary is already scheduled to have a presence at 33 pride festivals and parades in 2014.
“I was at Orlando Pride in October, where we signed up 900 supporters,” Changadveja told the crowd at Town. “The LGBT community loves Hillary,” she continued. “And we know Hillary loves the community.”
Lane Hudson, a DC-based activist best-known for exposing Mark Foley (the former congressman who sent salacious messages to an underage page and was forced to resign), spoke next. Hudson served as the emcee for the remainder of the event, introducing Clunie and the other headline speakers: Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, the now-married plaintiffs behind the lawsuit that brought marriage equality to California. Perry and Stier noted that one of their four children was in the audience, and their son sheepishly raised his hand. Perry said she met Clinton during the couple’s lawsuit and had been impressed by the her intimate knowledge of marriage equality campaigns across the country. “We are the most fortunate couple,” Perry said, “to have been a part of an effort that took decades to win, and we are still in the process of winning. We will win. We will prevail, because rightness always prevails. I want Hillary Clinton as our next president because she gets it.”
The crowd shared that sentiment. “Voting for Hillary pisses off all the right people,” said Victor Barry, an engineer milling about the crowd with a glass of white wine.
Dent Farr, a charming middle-aged gentleman in an argyle sweater, was upfront about why he was at the event. “The honest answer is a very good friend is hosting this. But also, I wouldn’t be here if I was not supporting the idea of Hillary Clinton for president,” he said. An Obama supporter from ’08, Farr has since jumped on the Clinton bandwagon. Despite the fact that Clinton’s husband conceived Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and Hillary didn’t endorse same-sex marriage until March of last year, Farr thinks Clinton would be a great president for the LGBT community. “Would I have liked to have seen, 25 years ago, a president say, ‘Everything’s equal, everybody’s equal, boom you can go get married’? Of course,” Dent said. “That president would have been impeached. In a heartbeat. It’s not something you can just flip a switch and make happen.” But now? “I’m not worried about her consistency on that. Not her, not her. I think things are at a point now where she could aggressively push for things and the public would be behind her.” After all, times have changed: Farr said his 92-year-old staunch Republican parents now support marriage equality.