Lesbian “Orange is the New Black” actress Samira Wiley will be presented the Visibility Award at the Human Rights Campaign North Carolina Gala on Feb. 21.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Organizers say they expect as many as 1,300 or more people to fill the Charlotte Convention Center’s ballroom for the annual Human Rights Campaign North Carolina Gala on Feb. 21, bringing with them a bevy of well-known speakers, entertainers and award winners.

The event is the national group’s 20th annual fundraising gala in the state. The anniversary celebration is made more special by the state’s recent recognition of same-gender marriages, say organizers.

“Our 20th anniversary gala will have several exciting elements including a celebration of the ability for same-sex couples to marry in North Carolina, a tribute to past galas [and] tribute to past gala co-chairs,” said Jay Biles, an HRC Board of Governors member, local dinner organizer and past dinner co-chair.

Biles said gala attendees can also expect a Kettle One martini ice luge at the reception, where special performers will also be present and a Hollywood-style runway entry will be hosted by Roxy C. Moorecox. Additionally, a silent auction will be present.

The events get off to a start on Friday, Feb. 20, when Takeover Friday hosts their popular evening mixer at The Westin’s lobby bar. That night, the Duke Energy Center’s lights will be hued in a rainbow motif. Other events that weekend include a Saturday morning Front Runners fun run and a Sunday brunch. HRC will also be welcomed by sponsor Bank of America, which will fly an HRC flag at its corporate headquarters and display the organization’s iconic blue and yellow on its walkway stretching over College St.

Speakers, award winners to shine

The annual fundraising dinner will feature an address from HRC President Chad Griffin, who will fly from the group’s D.C. headquarters to attend the event. Also present will be 1990s house singer Crystal Waters, who will perform at the event.

But the real stars will be HRC’s 2015 award winners. The group will award its Visibility Award to Samira Wiley, a lesbian actress who stars in the role of Poussey Washington on the hit Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.” Wiley, 27, was recently featured on one of the OUT 100 20th anniversary magazine covers.

Locally, the group will award the Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund and Josh Bledsoe. An instructor at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock, N.C., Bledsoe is also a founding faculty advisor for the college’s LGBT student group, PRISM, and has been involved with a variety of local LGBT efforts, including a production of “The Laramie Project” and the creation of a Western North Carolina gay-straight alliance network. The fund, an endowment initiative of the Foundation For The Carolinas, is the state’s largest ongoing funder for LGBT causes.

Other special guests and dignitaries will also be expected to attend the event, including Charlotte City Councilmembers LaWana Mayfield, Al Austin, Claire Fallon, Patsy Kinsey, Vi Lyles and David Howard, and state Sens. Jeff Jackson and Terry Van Duyn.

The gala will also host 20 youth leaders in its youth leadership program co-hosted by Equality North Carolina and Time Out Youth Center.

The 20th anniversary gala is being hosted in Charlotte for the fourth time since returning to the Queen City in 2012. It had been previously hosted in Charlotte from from 2005 through 2009, before moving to Raleigh in 2010 and 2011. The first local HRC gala was held in Greensboro in 1996 and 1997, then moved to Raleigh from 1998 through 2002 and then back to Greensboro in 2003 and 2004 before moving to Charlotte. : :

— For more information on the gala, other weekend activities and for information on ticket purchases, visit hrccarolina.org.

Matt Comer

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