More than 400 people attended the annual Equality NC Gala in Greensboro. Photo Credit: Equality NC.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — A statewide LGBT advocacy and education group attracted a record number of attendees at their annual fundraising dinner on Saturday, Nov. 22. The event, hosted by Equality North Carolina, featured several prominent speakers and activists while awarding local leaders from Greensboro and Raleigh, an elected official and Charlotte non-profit Time Out Youth.

Staffers with the organization say more than 400 attended the dinner, which welcomed remarks from special guest Kristin Beck, a national transgender rights activist, and heard a keynote by Wade Davis, executive director of the You Can Play Project and former NFL player.

Equality NC reports that more than 30 elected officials attended the event, including Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan, who welcomed the crowd with an opening statement. Three registers of deeds — Wake County’s Laura Riddick, Guilford’s Jeff Thigpen and Buncombe’s Drew Reisinger — were honored for their decisions to keep their offices open late on Oct. 10, the day a late-afternoon federal court order was handed down opening marriage to same-gender couples in North Carolina.

The celebration for marriage equality, though, was tempered with calls for continued advocacy and engagement.

“Emboldened by this historic win – we are ready. Ready, with your help tonight, to transform the momentum from the freedom to marry into a lasting movement for LGBT equality for decades to come, starting right now,” said executive director Chris Sgro, according to prepared remarks provided to the newspaper. “You may be married, but tonight we’re asking you to get engaged — engaged in creating a lived equality after marriage.”

Sgro said the group will continue working to increase equality and encourage advances across the state — “in both our rural hubs and urban centers,” he said — as well as continue advocacy on employment protections. North Carolina remains one of several states where LGBT people can be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity alone.

Sgro also said Equality North Carolina — the nation’s oldest state-based LGBT advocacy group — would “reclaim our position as a leader for LGBT activism across the region, the nation, and beyond.”

“The South is home to unique challenges and concerns within the LGBT movement,” Sgro said. “Armed with recent experiences in the fight for marriage equality and lessons learned from a challenging legislative environment, Equality NC Foundation can take its place as a leader in moving not only the state, but the region, forward on issues of LGBT equality in 2015.”

The group will host its national parent group’s annual conference in Charlotte in 2015, giving it, Sgro said, “an unprecedented opportunity for North Carolina’s LGBT activists to not only learn from national leaders in the pro-equality movement, but also to showcase the remarkable progress happening all across our great state.”

The group also awarded several honorees, including Greensboro’s Linda and Mac Stroupe, longtime PFLAG parents and organizers; Triangle-area broadcast personality Kelly Spaulding; legislative ally Rep. Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe); and organization of the year, Charlotte’s Time Out Youth.

Outside the dinner event, several protesters from the Davidson, N.C.-based Christ Fellowship Church held signs condemning the dinner, including several chastising Human Rights Campaign founder and board member Terry Bean, a high-profile Democratic fundraiser arrested in Oregon last week on charges related to sex with a minor.

Three pro-LGBT counter-protesters were arrested after engaging with the anti-LGBT protesters, according to Greensboro’s News & Record:

Michael James Klosek Jr., 24, of 3 Pomroy St. in Greensboro, faces three charges of simple assault and three charges of injury to personal property, according to warrants.

Klosek was accused of spraying a substance possibly containing bleach substance onto a generator used by protesters, according to warrants. The substance splashed onto three people.

Bail was set at $1,000 for Klosek.

Yahya Alazrak, 23, of Greensboro, faces a charge of injury to personal property after breaking a sign belonging to the opposite side, according to warrants.

A third person, Brian Drew Watkins, 39, of Greensboro, faces a charge of disorderly conduct for allegedly grabbing signs and yelling loudly, according to warrants.

Alazrak and Watkins were released on promises to appear in court, according to court records.

Matt Comer

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