CHARLOTTE — The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Carolinas Gala committee has revealed the winners of the 2008 Equality Award and Trailblazer Award, which will be presented Feb. 16 during the 13th annual fundraising dinner. The announcement of the honorees was made public on Jan. 9.
Elke Kennedy will be presented with HRC Carolinas’ Equality Award, sharing the honor with Myers Park Baptist Church.
The Equality Award, which recognizes outstanding individual or organizational work for LGBT equality and progress, will be presented to Elke Kennedy of Greenville, S.C., and Charlotte’s Myers Park Baptist Church. The Trailblazer Award will be presented to the Rev. Dr. Bennie Colclough.
Kennedy, who was recently named Q-Notes’ 2007 Person of the Year, became a champion of LGBT equality after her gay son, Sean, was killed in a hate crime last May. She is the founder of Sean’s Last Wish, a foundation created to raise awareness of the need for hate crimes legislation and to combat prejudice. Kennedy has lived in South Carolina with her family since 1985. While Sean’s death was investigated as a hate crime, South Carolina currently has no local hate crime laws.
Kennedy and Sean’s Last Wish were instrumental in campaigning for federal hate crimes legislation in 2007. The Matthew Shepard Act passed both chambers of Congress, an historic first, before it died in committee. Kennedy has spoken to audiences and organized vigils in Greenville, Charleston and Columbia, along with appearances at Atlanta Pride, Pride Charlotte, SC Pride and in New York City.
Myers Park Baptist Church took a courageous stand last November when the church’s Board of Deacons, representing an almost 2,000-member congregation, decided to seek dialogue with the North Carolina Baptist Convention as an act of witness to Christ’s welcome to all people.
In the interest of social justice, Myers Park “outed” itself to its own religious association to declare that the church would accept all LGBT people who wish to follow Christ and “participate fully in our faith community and serve as leaders in our Church.”
The move resulted in Myers Park’s expulsion from the Convention, which has a policy to separate from the Baptist community any member church that openly accepts and affirms LGBT persons and same-sex relations.
A statement of response was immediately posted on Myers Park’s website and read by the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. H. Stephen Shoemaker, on several newscasts.
The statement professed, “We will not allow our conscience to be coerced by [the Convention’s] exclusionary conditions of membership, and we reaffirm Christ’s welcome to all persons and our commitment to a ministry of reconciliation that seeks to be a healing witness in a world of divisions and hatreds and a part of God’s dream to make all things one.”
The 2008 Trailblazer Award, which recognizes an individual who has a record of consistent and significant contributions to the LGBT community and is seen as a role model to others, will be presented to the Rev. Dr. Bennie Colclough, pastor of Providence Christian Church in Manning, S.C.
An active straight ally in South Carolina, Rev. Bennie Colclough will be given the Trailblazer Award.
Colclough has given much time and effort working as an advocate and straight ally for the South Carolina Equality Coalition (SCEC), the South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement (SCGLPM), Faith In America and HRC. A native of Sumter, S.C., Colclough served in the United States Marine Corps for six years with a tour of duty in Vietnam, and is a graduate of Yale University Divinity School.
He has actively participated in numerous town hall forums, vigils, press conferences and radio talk shows around the issues of discrimination, justice, equality and religious bigotry. During the 2006 election cycle, Colclough worked tirelessly with SCEC to try and defeat South Carolina’s anti-gay, anti-family marriage amendment.
Last April, Rev. Colclough was one of two clergy persons from South Carolina who answered the HRC Clergy Call for Justice in Washington D.C. While in the nation’s capital, he visited and lobbied congressmen from South Carolina about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the Matthew Shepard Act. In September, he was a featured speaker at the S.C. Pride 2007 Town Hall: Equal Rights are Human Rights, sponsored by HRC, SCEC, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Organization for Women (NOW).
“These awards are the only LGBT recognitions truly meant to focus on the amazing efforts happening in the LGBT communities across the Carolinas,” said Tim Cable, 2008 HRC Carolinas Gala Awards committee chairman. “So many individuals and organizations in both states work tirelessly for tolerance, fairness and equality. Each year we have an open call for nominations to ensure we have individuals and organizations that reflect our diverse community and capture the many inspirational efforts demonstrated by all nominees. We are so proud of our 2008 award recipients.”
The HRC Carolinas Gala Committee also announced this year's featured entertainer. “American Idol” finalist Frenchie Davis (pictured), a Los Angeles native, will perform during the dinner. Davis was considered the early favorite to win the 2003 season of the hit singing competition before she was disqualified for having once worked for an adult website. She will be featured on the single “You Are” from famed DJ/remixer Tony Moran's new album later this year.
In addition, Davis will be starring (with “American Idol” season two winner Ruben Studdard) in the 30th Anniversary touring production of the hit Broadway musical “Ain’t Misbehavin.” She’s also recording her debut CD, which will be a combination of standards, Broadway and a few original songs.
As previously reported by Q-Notes, actress Kathy Najimy will deliver the Gala's keynote speech.
HRC hosts annual fundraising galas throughout the country. The Carolinas Gala will take place on Feb. 16 at the Charlotte Convention Center. Tickets are $190 each, after Jan. 31 the price will increase to $225.
For more information or to purchase tickets online, visit www.hrccarolinas.org.