Mo’Nique questions her HRC Atlanta award

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imageOscar-winning actress and Atlanta talk-show host Mo’Nique isn’t quite sure why she’s receiving one of the Human Rights Campaign’s highest honors during its gala dinner on Saturday in Atlanta.

Mo’Nique (top photo) is one of three headliners for the 24th Annual HRC Atlanta Gala Dinner & Auction, which is expected to draw about 1,000 people and scores of elected officials. She’s scheduled to receive the Ally for Equality Award and will be accompanied by gay filmmaker Lee Daniels, who directed Mo’Nique’s Oscar-winning performance in “Precious.”

But when asked why she’s receiving the award from HRC, she quipped, “I think that’s a question for them.”

Honoring the actress, who tapes her “The Mo’Nique Show” for BET in Atlanta, has been questioned in some quarters by critics who cite the gay cracks she dishes during her comedy routines. HRC says the Ally for Equality Award “recognizes the outstanding efforts of those who dedicate time, energy and a whole-hearted commitment to better the lives of LGBT people.” But when the organization announced its selection of Mo’Nique in February, they didn’t include a single reference to any work the actress has done on behalf of LGBT issues.

In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution – in which she questioned why she’s receiving the HRC award – Mo’Nique discusses a gay uncle who died of AIDS and how some African Americans view homosexuality.

“You have people who are black, white, Latino, Chinese, who look at homosexuality as a bad thing, and you have people of all those same races who say ‘Please leave people alone. Let them be who they are going to be,’” she tells the AJC.

image But Daniels (second photo), in an earlier interview with Project Q Atlanta, defended Mo’Nique’s use of gay jokes.

“She makes anti-black jokes, she makes anti-Lee Daniels jokes,” he says, explaining that Mo’Nique “really jumps in for gay rights in a way that is not superficial, that comes from the heart. She understands gay rights and our movement more than any other actor that I know, or any celebrity that I know. The time that she spends is deserved of her making as many jokes as she wants to. It comes from nothing but a place of love.”

The build-up to the dinner, which kicks off Saturday at 7:15 p.m., has been taking place for months. In addition to Mo’Nique and Daniels, HRC President Joe Solmonese will headline the event.

Openly gay elected officials – including Atlanta City Council member Alex Wan, Doraville City Council member Brian Bates and Fulton County Commissioner Joan Garner – are expected to attend, along with several other current and former officeholders. They include U.S. Rep. John Lewis and gay-friendly GOP state Sen. Mike Jacobs.

Two longtime LGBT activists from Atlanta – Paul Plate, executive director of Positive Impact, and attorney Jeff Cleghorn – will also be honored.

image Plate (third photo) was one of two Atlanta activists on hand at the White House last July when President Obama unveiled his National AIDS Strategy. In December, Cleghorn (bottom photo), who serves on the board of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, was one of at least four Atlantans inside the Interior Department in Washington, D.C. to watch as Obama signed the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Plate will receive the Leon Allen & Winston Johnson Community Service Award during the HRC dinner, which is set for May 14. Plate has led Positive Impact since its inception in 1993 when it served 135 clients and helped them with mental health and substance abuse issues related to HIV. Last year, the agency served more than 4,100 people. The agency’s initial $20,000 annual budget now exceeds $2.2 million.

Cleghorn (bottom photo), a retired Army major, will receive the Dan Bradley Humanitarian Award. He expressed appreciation for the recognition.

image“I am honored to have served as a soldier in our community’s long battle to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and I am grateful for HRC’s leadership,” Cleghorn said in a statement announcing the awards.

Cleghorn has been a vocal advocate for repeal of “Don’t Ask” and his efforts included debating a retired Marine general on Fox 5 and organizing an Atlanta event in November that raised more than $30,000 for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

After the “Our Stories” theme was announced at February’s pre-dinner reception (view photos), guests clamored for the drinks and noshes while table captains clamored for the seating chart at March’s event (view photos) to claim prime viewing spots for the 2011 program. Supporters toasted their final push to the dinner with a reception in April.


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