On Feb. 17, the Human Rights Campaign North Carolina will hold their 23rd Annual Gala at La Meridien, 555 S. McDowell St., North Tower.

Operating under the slogan, “Together We Rise,” the gala plans to honor and highlight the community in new and exciting ways.

Sarah McBride. Photo Credit: Wikimedia.
CC 4.0 License

Keynote speaker for the event is Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Sarah McBride. She made national headlines when she came out as transgender while serving as student body president at American University. And, she interned at the White House and was the first out transgender woman to do so. McBride became the first openly transgender person to address a major party political convention when she spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pa.

Human Rights Campaign Carolina Gala
Co-chairs Joy Bowling and Louis Kemp

This year, the gala is chaired by Joy Bowling and Louis Kemp, two local Charlotte activists who stepped up to lead the gala evening of excitement and activism. Kicking off with a silent auction with items donated from local non-profits and businesses, and cocktail reception, the event’s program, dinner and entertainment will begin at 7 p.m.

Every year, the gala honors a “Pioneer of the Year,” someone who has contributed to the lives and visibility of LGBTQ people in North Carolina, and an “Organization of the Year,” given to an organization that has furthered LGBTQ progress in the state, plus an “Ally for Equality.” Dan Kirsch was chosen as the “Pioneer” recipient. He has a long history of LGBTQ activism in Charlotte and the Carolinas. He was a part of the founding of One Voice Chorus, OutCharlotte LGBTQ Cultural Festival, the Lesbian & Gay Community Center of Charlotte and the Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund. Through this work and outreach throughout the community, he has worked on countless campaigns and issues from film societies to helping fundraise for LGBTQ homeless youth.

The “Organization of the Year” is Stonewall Sports. Started just over three years ago, Stonewall began as a group of friends that saw an opening to bring together a chapter of the national program to be a part of the Charlotte community. Now with 15 different active leagues, serving over 1,500 people, they are able to offer active, engaging opportunities to many Charlotteans. Stonewall Charlotte has not only been able to offer community building for their own members, but through community events and volunteer drives, they have been able to give back more than $100,000 throughout the city.

Tatiana Maslany

Tatiana Maslany, an actress who gained prominence in “Orphan Black,” will receive the 2018 an award and recognition as an ally for LGBTQ equality on screen.

Johnny Manuel

This year’s gala entertainment comes in the form of Johnny Manuel, a young man from Flint, Mich. who was a contestant on “America’s Got Talent.” He uses his voice and talents to highlight important struggles and his own lived experiences. He is currently recording his debut record.

Auctioneer and special guest for the event is Dana Goldberg, a comedian who has shared the stage with former President Barack Obama and actresses Jane Lynch and Kathy Najimy.

When asked about why events that honor North Carolinans and showcase talents like Manuel, Dan Mauney, one of the local Human Rights Campaign directors, said the gala is a place for people to see their voices represented and know, “I’m not alone — I can be a part of a larger organization where I can belong and express myself and be accepted.”

Earlier on the day of the gala, registration for Federal Club and Federal Club Council ticket holders opens at 4:30 p.m. where attendees can have a preview of and participate in an early silent auction and reception at 5 p.m.

Table captains are welcome. They host tables of 10. Visit the website for more details.

Preferred parking is provided by the hotel at $7 for gala attendees.

Tickets are $125/Federal Club and $250/regular and are available online. Guests may select an alternate vegetarian meal option.

A special rate of $149 is available for those who wish to stay at the hotel. When calling 800-325-3535 to book a room, request the HRC dinner rate.

Prior to the festivities, several events are being held as a lead up to the gala. On Feb. 16, enjoy a Rise Up Takeover in the hotel lobby from 7-11 p.m. DJ Little Betty will be on hand spinning tunes and a cash bar will be available.  Admission is free.

On Feb. 17, get up early for the Rise & Run Fun Run which begins at 9 a.m. and is being held in conjuction with Front Runners Meet Up. Participants will meet at People’s Market, 1315 East Blvd.

After the gala until midnight, Rise & Celebrate at CJ’s of Le Meridien with a cash bar and ‘90s music and dance party. Or, Rise & Relax at the Equality Lounge at the hotel for conversation and a cash bar. Admission is free.

On Feb. 18, Rise & Dine at Boulevard 1820, 1820 South Blvd., for a brunch, mimosas and drag queens at 11 a.m. Brunch is $20 and a cash bar will be available. All door ticket proceeds will benefit the work of HRC.

Volunteers are always needed at the gala. Sign up online at bit.ly/2nLnpax.

For more information, visit hrccarolina.org.