The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) celebrates 25 years of holding a fundraiser in the Carolinas on Feb. 22. The event, now called the North Carolina Dinner & Silent Auction, was started during a pivotal year for the organization. In 1995, under the leadership of Executive Director Elizabeth Birch, the organization changed its name and branding, launching the now uber-popular yellow equal sign on a blue background. The organization’s marketing was greatly expanded which likely laid the groundwork for its massive growth over the next 25 years. According to its website, “When Human Rights Campaign Fund (HRCF) was founded in 1980, it was primarily a fund for supporting pro-fairness congressional candidates. The rebranding in 1995 announced to the country that, in the words of Birch, ‘We’re so much more than a fund.’”
With years of Jesse Helms, a 2012 constitutional same-sex marriage ban known as Amendment One and HB2, it is no doubt that North Carolina has been at the epicenter of HRC’s work several times. In an email, Birch said, “there have been so many brave souls that have done real battle in North Carolina.”
qnotes had an opportunity to speak with national staff members and the regional co-chairs. The following interview was with Louis Kemp, Board of Governors member and Viet Tran, national press secretary via email.
Chris Rudisill: First off, it’s the 25th anniversary of the North Carolina Dinner, what can guests expect at the event? What is the theme of this year’s event?
HRC: 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) North Carolina Dinner. To mark a milestone, the Charlotte Dinner Committee has been hard at work contacting prior co-chairs of the event in hopes they will return with friends and supporters for the dinner this year. At the event itself, we’ll be joined by HRC’s new President Alphonso David who will share updates on HRC’s work to further LGBTQ equality across the country.
We will be announcing a full line of speakers as we get closer to the event — keep an eye on our Facebook page for updates.
CR: What is the financial goal for this year’s event? How does the Carolinas gala rank in terms of other state fundraisers for HRC?
HRC: The actual financial goal for this year’s event is confidential, however, the HRC North Carolina Dinner is our largest annual fundraising event. Historically, the HRC North Carolina Dinner has been the largest LGBTQ fundraiser in the Carolinas both in terms of attendees and dollars raised.
CR: How many people do you expect to attend?
HRC: Our goal and expectation is around 950 attendees.
CR: Can you tell me a little about the co-chairs and any key committee members?
HRC: The HRC North Carolina Dinner Committee is led this year by two co-chairs from the HRC Charlotte Steering Committee (April Splawn and Lee Robertson) and directed by a dinner liaison from the HRC Charlotte Board of Governors (Louis Kemp).
The overall committee itself is comprised of nearly 20 volunteers working on important tasks such as engaging table captains and driving ticket sales, securing corporate sponsor commitments, silent and live auction, Federal Club/major donor events, city host events, volunteer engagement and more.
CR: HRC worked tirelessly on get-out-the-vote events and pro-equality advertisement in North Carolina prior to the governor’s race in 2016 which helped defeat Gov. [Pat] McCrory. What issues should North Carolinians be aware of that HRC is currently working on?
HRC: In the 2018 midterms, HRC helped register more than 32,000 voters and recruited more than 4,200 volunteers, who worked over 8,500 shifts and clocked more than 30,000 volunteer hours.
In the critical final four days of the campaign, HRC staff and volunteers in get-out-the-vote efforts alone knocked on more than 80,000 doors and held 36,400 conversations with voters at their doors and by phone on behalf of our endorsed candidates.
HRC’s unprecedented grassroots mobilization represented an investment of approximately $26 million to recruit volunteers, mobilize constituents, register voters and grow the organization’s grassroots army in an all-out effort to pull the emergency brake on the hateful anti-LGBTQ agenda of the Trump-Pence administration and elect a Congress that would hold them accountable.
CR: What opportunities are still available to be part of the event?
HRC: We are still seeking Table Captains — the idea here is to commit to buying a ticket and filling the rest of your table (additional nine tickets purchased by the TC’s friends, family, etc.). Tickets are still available at hrcclt.org and will be available through Friday, Feb. 21. We also need volunteers to help at the dinner itself and other events over the weekend; they can email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up. Several events taking place over the weekend include a Takeover Friday event at City Lights Rooftop on Feb. 21, Yoga with Mimosas & Brunch at Kali Yoga in NoDa on Saturday, Feb. 22, an “After After Party” at Bar Argon after the HRC dinner on Feb. 22 and a Recovery Drag Brunch for Equality on Sunday, Feb. 23 at Letty’s on Shamrock. All information about this can be found on the website and our Facebook page.
CR: Over the past several years, there has been additional scrutiny put on non-profit activist organizations that say galas and dinners are out of touch and inaccessible to those very people working the hardest on the streets. I completely understand the balance here and the need for fundraisers to support the important work, but how is the local committee and/or HRC addressing the needs to connect to activists and advocates who might otherwise not have the money to attend such an event? How are you ensuring that the event represents the community it serves?
HRC: In order to make the HRC dinner more accessible to those who want to support the community, we have fellowship opportunities available to financially support individuals who are interested in attending. In exchange for committing to become involved with HRC locally (i.e., staff Pride events across N.C. and S.C., join our Steering Committee, canvas and work phone banks, etc.), we offer discounted and/or free tickets on a first-come, first-serve basis and based on need as demonstrated in the fellowship application. The application is also available on the website dinner page.
As a note, the dinner is just one of the events HRC puts on throughout the year in the Carolinas. Keep an eye on qnotes’ Facebook page to hear about other opportunities like volunteering at Pride, joining in on Beers for Equality or getting out the vote.