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 www.hrccarolinas.org.
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.