CHARLOTTE, N.C. — On Feb. 23, over 1,100 LGBT and ally community members, dressed in their finest attire, showed their support by attending the 18th annual Human Rights Campaign Carolina Gala at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Attendees were greeted with a trapeze artist who was serving wine while suspended upside down.
Once the dinner began, co-chairs Ann Hooper, Zuni Johnson, Jason McCraw and Connie Vetter welcomed everyone from a square raised stage in the center of the room. It was from there that the evenings festivities evolved. Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners Chair Pat Cotham and Charlotte City Councilwoman LaWana Mayfield served as governmental representatives. Cotham said that with everything that is being done, “we will win the fight” for equality. Mayfield read Mayor Anthony Foxx’s proclamation.
Recognition was given to the gala’s sponsors, both from a national and local level. In fact, Jay Biles, who served on the dinner committee, said that there were more HRC corporate sponsors in North Carolina than anywhere else in the U.S. with the exception of New York.
Joni Madison, who was a former gala co-chair and now sits on HRC’s board of directors, introduced HRC Executive Director Chad Griffin. He said that the Democratic National Convention, held in Charlotte in September 2012, was the most pro-LGBT applauding convention in history. He realized that North Carolina has had to rededicate itself to the fight for equality in the wake of passage of Amendment One in May of 2012, that people were simply dusting themselves off and continuing the fight. Even with the loss in the pro-LGBT camp, the energy that was created helped to win landslide victories across the country. And, in January, for the first time, the voice of the LGBT front was found on the steps of the U.S. Capitol when President Barack Obama included mention of the community in his inaugural address. Griffin completed his remarks by saying that “we have to seize” this opportunity to obtain full equality, equal justice for all and to make “our dreams a reality.”
The awards presentations followed with Executive Director Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara accepting the HRC North Carolina Equality Award for the Campaign for Southern Equality. Amos McClorey, Cabarrus County NAACP president, was on hand to pick up the HRC North Carolina Legacy Award for Rev. Dr. William Barber.
Actor Mandy Patinkin (who stars in the Showtime series “Homeland” which is shot in Charlotte and the region) took center stage when he was presented with the HRC Ally for Equality Award. After receiving the award he said that he was moved to be a part of “this community.” He added that LGBT human rights is a family issue and that “we are all equal partners in the family [of citizens].” He also said that for those who discriminated against the LGBT community that [we] “must disabuse them with the knowledge that we are right.”
During his presentation, he cited the works of President Abraham Lincoln, composer Steven Sondheim and others while doing so in song.
Patinkin’s wife, actress/writer Kathryn Grody, joined him onstage. The pièce de résistance came with him singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” with everyone in attendance joining him while standing, finishing with “why, oh, why can’t we?”
And, the music did not stop there. Alex Newell, who plays Unique from FOX’s “Glee,” had a lion’s share of attendees crowding around the stage, dancing and singing along, as the evening’s festivities were brought to a close. : :