CHARLOTTE — With a star-studded attendee list including some of the most well-known movers and shakers in the Carolinas LGBT community, the 2009 Human Rights Campaign Gala returns to Charlotte once more before heading to North Carolina’s capital city in 2010.

The week-long series of events has sparked protests from transgender community members and coincides with grassroots protests of an “ex-gay” conference slated to occur the same day as the dinner.

This year’s theme is “Imagine” and dinner co-chairs are asking the community to imagine all of the possibilities as our community, both locally and nationally, continues to grow and work toward full equality for LGBT people.

On Feb. 21, the Gala will light up with a special performance by comedienne Suzanne Westenhoefer and a special keynote address by newly-installed U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan (D).

“Senator Hagan said repeatedly during her campaign for Senate that, if elected, she would reach out to folks across the state,” a statement from Hagan Press Secretary David Hoffman said. “Sen. Hagan looks forward to speaking at HRC’s event and updating attendees about the work she and her colleagues are doing to help shore up the economy, advocate on behalf of working families and get our country back on track.”

Other special guests include HRC President Joe Solmonese.

This year’s award winners include the statewide EqualityNC and Lesbian & Gay Community Center of Charlotte board chair Denise Palm-Beck. The HRC Equality Award is given annually to organizations or individuals who work to achieve LGBT equality.

At their Jan. 27 fundraiser, “Let’s Make a Deal,” HRC Gala Co-Chair Michael Holmes said that despite the tough economy, the Gala’s sponsors — including presenting sponsors Bank of America and Wachovia — had really pitched in. The dinner’s ticket prices are slightly cheaper than last year’s dinner. They can be bought for $175 at

The black-tie gala at the Charlotte Convention Center won’t be the only must-attend event in a week’s worth of fun. On Sunday, Feb. 15, the Gala kicks off its festivities with a tea dance at the Garden & Gun Club. On Friday, Feb. 20, Takeover Friday heads to The Westin Hotel’s Bar 10. Afterward, an HRC “block party” will ensue at some of Charlotte’s hottest gay nightspots.

After the Gala, attendees and community members will head out to the Garden & Gun Club to see acclaimed pop-singer Kristine W. Admission is $20 or $15 for club members and Gala ticket holders.

As HRC patrons and supporters gather for fun and empowerment, members of TransCarolina, a transgender support and advocacy group, will protest what they say are deceitful tactics by the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy organization. They’ve notified the City of Charlotte of their intent to picket the organization’s dinner.

Janice Covington, TransCarolina chair, told Q-Notes via email that her group will protest HRC’s decision to exclude the transgender community from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

“I have people in my organization that depended on ENDA to pass,” she said. “I have members that are desperate to find work. I have seen suicides and homeless transgenders, some in my own organization.”

Covington said her group feels betrayed by HRC and Solmonese. She says Solmonese and the HRC board should be fired.

At the same time as Gala events and the opposing TransCarolina protest, several community organizations and leaders will be presenting a series of events to counter the so-called “ex-gay” Exodus International conference, “Love Won Out.” The conference, which includes sessions and panels discussing “reparative therapy” for LGBT individuals, is slated to occur at Central Church of God in Charlotte on Feb. 21, the same day as the dinner.

Members of the newly-established, grassroots group Charlotte Rainbow Action Network for Equality (CRANE) will present a Valentine’s Day public awareness event in Uptown Charlotte to kick off their week of activities. On Feb. 19, they’ll host author and activist Wayne Besen, executive director of the national organization Truth Wins Out. Besen will present “Pray Away the Gay,” a discussion on the harms and lies of the “ex-gay” industry.

Before the Gala on Feb. 21, CRANE members will hold a peaceful, non-violent protest in front of Central Church of God.

This year’s HRC Gala sponsors include presenting sponsors Wachovia and Bank of America, as well as American Express, Duke Energy, Audi, Food Lion, North Carolina Signature and Classic Graphics. National partners include American Airlines, Citi, IBM, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, North Carolina-based Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Prudential Financial, North Carolina-based Replacements, Ltd., and others. Q-Notes is a media partner.

Click here for a full listing of HRC events. For more information or to buy tickets to the Gala visit

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.

3 replies on “2009 HRC Gala: ‘Imagine’ the possibilities”

  1. Kay Hagan as a keynote speaker – what a joke!!! Picking the lesser of 2 evils might be okay for voting but to select her as a keynote speaker?? Did she once mention her support of gay rights during her campaign or on her campaign website? Did she ever disclose her family member that is on the HRC Carolinas board? Not once did she mention anything about gay rights during the NC Campaign.

  2. HRC protest, Demonstration Count Down 1 Day.

    On Saturday February the 21st I feel will be one of the proudest days of my life. To be able to stand with a Coalition of Transgender Groups and GBL supporters in Charlotte North Carolina as one who will come together regardless of personal feeling from all across the southeast for a common cause is beyond words. My life long dream of togetherness and belief in the transgender society will make an impact on the South like a Thunderbolt thrown down from the heavens as our unified statement is delivered to HRC.

    I feel this show of solidarity will convince HRC that we will never cower and that we stand strong. HRC will see a reflection of the past like Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco 1967 or Stonewall in New York 1969. This protest will rival our sisters of the past. Since theses early days we have grown to be more intelligent and stronger in our convictions. This protest, demonstration will be like a strike to the heart of those in the HRC leadership who don’t accept us. We will have our banners, we will fly the American flag and we will have major press covering us. Can you hear me? .HRC! Human Rights means exactly what it says we want some, change your name if you don’t want to give it. In fact I would like to challenge Joe Solmonese to a public debate at the Westin Hotel before the Protest on Saturday.

    Let me say we don’t hate HRC or the fine people who are members even though we project it at this time. I realize as an intelligent person that mistakes were made in the past during the ENDA negotiations. I truly believe that the same mistakes will not be made again. In the next round of negotiations HRC, Task Force, NTCE and many of the other lobbyist groups that are at the table with the Congressional Committee has the responsibility to convince our law makers that we are a people that only want the same as every other free American. I feel this time around these organizations will be successful in obtaining the right of employment that all of the LGBT community deserves. These lobbyist groups need to stay united regardless of differences to show the United States Congress that we are a force that will not take no for a full and inclusive ENDA. If one of these organizations falters during this important legislation it will be there demise.

    I know a lot of you cannot attend this heartfelt demonstration because of personal reasons. But I feel your excitement growing within me. My sisters, brothers and I will be thinking of all of you. I feel confident we will make you proud this Saturday night. I want to ask all of you regardless if you are getting ready to go to a show or just sitting around. Please stop what you are doing on Saturday say a prayer so that all of us will be Safe and out of Harms way.

    Janice Covington, Chair of TransCarolina

  3. Does Kay Hagan have a clue– can she spell “gay” or “lesbian” or “transgendered”; perhaps mention “LGBT” or “equality”? Is she coming to talk about the military and the economy….?

    Or is she just showing up for $ and votes.

    What an intro to an HRC dinner….it’s about equality, stupid!

    “For more than a decade, Senator Kay R. Hagan has worked for the people of North Carolina as a champion for working families, quality education, sound fiscal policy, and a clean environment. She and her husband, Chip Hagan, have lived in Greensboro for more than 30 years and raised their three grown children there: Jeanette, Tilden, and Carrie.

    Senator Hagan was born in Shelby, North Carolina. A graduate of Florida State University and Wake Forest Law School, she worked at North Carolina National Bank (a predecessor to Bank of America) for 10 years, becoming a vice president in the estates and trust division. She left the bank to spend more time with her growing children and was an active participant in her Greensboro community, becoming involved in local charities and shuttling carpools to soccer practices.

    Senator Hagan got an early start in public service when she helped her uncle, “Walkin’ Lawton” Chiles, the former governor and U.S. Senator from Florida, paste bumper stickers on supporters’ cars. Senator Hagan and her husband were both active in Guilford County Democratic politics and in 1992, Governor Jim Hunt asked her to run his gubernatorial campaign in Guilford County. She helped Governor Hunt win reelection in 1996 before running for the North Carolina State Senate herself in 1998.

    In the North Carolina State Senate, Senator Hagan earned a reputation as a commonsense hard-worker interested in results, not partisan bickering. As co-chair of the state Budget Committee, Senator Hagan made record investments in education, raised teacher pay, and increased the minimum wage, while cutting taxes and balancing five straight budgets.

    Hailing from a proud military family, Senator Hagan is a strong supporter of the military and our veterans and is committed to maintaining North Carolina’s status as the “most military-friendly state in the nation.” Senator Hagan’s father-in-law is a 95-year old retired two-star Marine general, her father and brother both served in the Navy, and her husband, Chip, himself a Vietnam veteran, attended Wake Forest Law School with help from the G.I. Bill.

    In 2008, Senator Hagan was elected to the U.S. Senate by North Carolinians wanting active, effective leaders who will work tirelessly on the issues that matter to the state.”

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