RALEIGH — Clay Aiken will take the stage at the convention center Saturday night to do something he has never done before: deliver a speech about gay rights.
But don't expect him to pound his fist and scream for the right to get married.
"There are people who are loud and make noise, and there are people who are deliberate and slow and steady," Aiken said during an interview this week at a downtown coffee shop. "Right now, at this point in my life, I feel like a slow and steady person."
Aiken, a Raleigh native and platinum-selling pop singer, made headlines in 2008 when he appeared on the cover of People magazine with the headline, "Yes, I'm gay." This weekend, he will speak as part of the Human Rights Campaign Carolinas gala at the Raleigh Convention Center. Meredith Baxter, the "Family Ties" actress who recently came out of the closet on the "Today" show, also will deliver a speech.
Since it was announced that Aiken would speak at the HRC gala, organizers have received e-mail from his fans. Some have said that Aiken's appearance has caused them to have conversations about sexuality they wouldn't have had otherwise, said Joni Madison, who is helping to organize the gala.
"It brings a whole other side to the conversation," Madison said. "It's fun to watch."
The visibility of gay Americans has never been higher. More celebrities feel comfortable sharing their sexual orientation with the public. President Barack Obama advocates ending the military's policy of "don't ask, don't tell." A handful of states allow gay marriage, with fervent opinions on both sides of the issue.
Chooses his own words
HRC provided a speechwriter to help Aiken, 31, with his remarks, but he decided to write his own. The original speech was too political, Aiken said, and included a slam aimed at George W. Bush.
"I don't feel like this is the place to be horribly politically charged and bash people and talk about the wrongs that have been done," he said. "My goal is to be hopeful, that it's time for everyone to have equal rights."
For Aiken, that means inheritance rights and hospital-visitation rights and all the other rights that heterosexual couples take for granted, including the right to be married.
But, he said, "I'm not going to be the person who says it has to be marriage or nothing else."
The most basic need, he said, is that everyone have the same rights. He believes it will happen, although it could take decades.
"It's more important to me, as a parent, that my son have all the rights - if he's gay - than it is for me. I don't want to do anything today that's going to inhibit or be a detriment to his rights."
Aiken's son, Parker, was born in August 2008. Parker's mother is music producer Jaymes Foster, who lives in California. Parker, who was conceived via in vitro fertilization, splits his time between the West Coast and Aiken's home in the Triangle.
No family along
Aiken said he would probably attend Saturday's event with his bodyguard. No family members or friends were scheduled to accompany him. Some in his family have handled the news about his sexuality better than others.
"Some Southern families like to sweep things under the rug," he said. "We just don't talk about it."
Although Aiken has no plans to be a rabble-rouser in the efforts to secure equal rights, he admits he might change his mind. Even as he has decided to take a measured approach, "that sure as hell doesn't mean I won't be loud one day."
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