The Human Rights Campaign North Carolina Gala is swinging into town the weekend of Feb. 23-26. With it comes a variety of statewide and national leaders, activists, entertainers, philanthropists and other movers and shakers. Are you on board?

This year’s Carolina dinner makes a return from Raleigh, where it was hosted in 2010 and 2011. Slated for the evening of Saturday, Feb. 25, the event will be held at the new Crown Ballroom at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. There, the national organization will present its Visibility Award to openly gay CNN anchor Don Lemon.

Local award winners include Rev. Debbie Warren, executive director of the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (RAIN), who will be receiving HRC’s North Carolina Legacy Award for her years of devoted service to RAIN, those affected by HIV/AIDS and to the LGBT community.

As director of RAIN, the only non-profit in Charlotte providing direct client services, Warren has helped to engage more than 100 congregations from 20 different denominations and faith traditions in working to help those living with and affected by HIV. She’s also provided more than 150,000 total hours of service to the community, served 900 HIV-positive clients and reached tens of thousands of community members in education outreach.

Debbie Warren Photo Credit: RAIN

“We are thankful and grateful for those individuals and groups that are creating equality in our communities,” HRC North Carolina Gala Steering Committee Awards and Scholarship Chair Aaron Parker said in a release. “It is our pleasure to honor them for their hard work and dedication.”

Longtime HRC volunteer and HRC Board of Governors member Scott Bishop will be honored as Volunteer of the Year. Two organizations will also share in the spotlight. The Farewell to Summer Foundation, which presents Charlotte’s White Party each September and the LGBT Center of Raleigh will be honored with the Equality and Trailblazer Awards.

The annual dinner event and its bevy of weekend activities aren’t all for fun and games, though. In addition to the parties and honors, HRC will be reiterating its mission and commitment to equality and to North Carolina, which faces an anti-LGBT constitutional amendment vote in May.

“HRC has contributed $100k to the effort thus far and will be setting up its own North Carolina PAC so that HRC supporters can contribute directly to the effort to defeat the amendment,” Gala Co-Chair Rich Hurley said in a recent email to supporters.

The weekend will also give young people the chance to learn more about what it means to be a leader and take action in the LGBT community. The Charlotte-based national non-profit Campus Pride has partnered with HRC to present its two-day “LEADER I AM — Carolinas Leadership & Action Summit.” The conference provides students ages 18-25 the opportunity to engage with LGBT and ally national, statewide and local community leaders, hone organizational, leadership and advocacy skills as well as develop strategic partnerships across the Carolinas.

“Campus Pride is proud to partner with HRC on this state-wide leadership summit to support LGBT and ally youth in the Carolinas,” says Shane Windmeyer, Campus Pride executive director. “Understanding social justice, activism and leadership are key to educating a generation of new leaders for equality — and the summit will do just that.”

Youth applications for the summit are still available and include acceptance to the summit and a free ticket to the HRC Gala. Learn more online and download application forms at

Other details about the event, including its weekend-long slate of day- and night-time activities have yet to be announced. For more information, visit : :