Hal Sparks: ‘The tide of change is with the LGBT community’

Greater Cincinnati HRC honors a hometown ally, who derides Trump and the ‘politics of division.’

by Bob Vitale

Hal Sparks jokes that his agents wore hazmat suits and handed him the first script of “Queer as Folk” with a pair of salad tongs. 

“Here. This is big in England. Please don’t do it.” 

Despite their warnings about the career trajectory of other straight actors who took on gay roles, Sparks took the job when it was offered and spent five seasons on the Showtime series as the lovable best friend and comic-book store owner, Michael Novotny. 

Saturday night in Cincinnati, where he was honored as this year’s Ally for Equality at the 9th Annual Greater Cincinnati Human Rights Campaign Gala, Sparks described the one scene in the series that made him cringe: 

“I think we were about 10 episodes in, and there was a line that the Brian character (played by Gale Gordon) says, ‘There are only two kinds of straight people in the world: Those who hate you to your face, and those who hate you to your back.’

“And after we read through the scripts, I went up to Ron (Cowen) and Dan (Lipman), the executives, and I said, ‘Which one am I? Which one am I? I love you guys. That’s why I’m here. I’m here because I love you. I love you to your face, and I love you to your back.’

 “Sometimes literally, and they filmed it,” Sparks joked. 

The 48-year-old Cincinnati native — he grew up in Kentucky, but Cincinnati “was basically the nearest hospital without chickens in it; it’s not like I’m going to claim to be a lifelong Bengals fan all the sudden” — told the hundreds of people gathered for the annual HRC fundraiser not to listen to opponents of LGBTQ civil rights who’ve been emboldened since the election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence. 

“I personally think one of the things that has come up in the last year of the politics of division … is this seed idea that there is a large group of people who want you to think you’re alone. They want you to think that every straight person is an enemy, that they have something against you, that they harbor this, that it’s down deep and it’s never going to go away. 

“And I’m here to tell you it’s not (that way). And it’s important that you know that, so that when you see the vitriol and the evil that these people spout, you don’t look at them and think, ‘Oh my god, I’m surrounded by them.’ I want you to look at them when those people do that and say, I have 10 to replace you. 

“Because that’s the truth,” Sparks said. “The truth is that the tide of change is with the LGBT community and with the Human Rights Campaign because the people are with you.” 

Having lost the 2016 popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 2.8 million, Trump and Pence were outnumbered when they entered office, Sparks said, and they’re even more unpopular now. 

“One of the reasons is how he has treated the LGBTQ community. It’s unforgivable, and for a lot of people that is the turning point for them. You have allies, and I need you to remember that every time you face an uphill battle or a situation where a vote seems to go wrong, or where there’s some loudmouth on a street corner spouting some religious or political nonsense for a reason to disenfranchise you as a human being,” Sparks said. “You have 10 for every one of those people. I’m more than proud to be one of them.” 

In addition to honoring Sparks, HRC Cincinnati honored attorney Scott E. Knox with the David C. Crowley Leadership Award, named for the late Cincinnati City Council member and vice mayor. Knox specializes in legal issues involving LGBTQ people, and he was part of the effort to repeal Cincinnati’s anti-gay Article XII and pass a local nondiscrimination ordinance. 

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s Transgender Clinic was honored with the HRC’s Corporate Equality Award. The clinic, which began in 2013, has served more than 1,000 patients ages 4–25. 

Bob Vitale is the editor of Prizm, A Toledo native and graduate of Toledo Public Schools, he has worked as a local government and politics reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, as a Washington correspondent for Thomson Newspapers and as editor-in-chief for Outlook Ohio. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science from Ball State University and a master’s degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.

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