CHARLOTTE, N.C. — More than 1,000 supporters and donors of the Human Rights Campaign gathered in Charlotte on Saturday evening for the national group’s North Carolina fundraising dinner.
The event, held each February, usually attracts leaders and celebrities from across the state and nation to raise funds for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization.
Equality on the move
U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan welcomed the crowd as the dinner opened. She spoke of her appreciation for HRC and its work in moving equality forward and said her sponsorship of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), federal hate crimes legislation and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were among her proudest accomplishments.
Other elected officials and politicians were in attendance, too. State Rep. Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford), who is currently running for the 12th Congressional District, was on hand, as was Clay Aiken, who is now a candidate for North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District. Aiken, a former special needs educator, rose to national fame during his time on “American Idol” and “The Celebrity Apprentice.” In 2006, Aiken was appointed by President George W. Bush to the Presidential Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.
Other elected leaders included Charlotte City Councilmember and former Mayor Patsy Kinsey, Councilmembers LaWana Mayfield and Al Austin, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cotham and State Rep. Alma Adams, among several others.
HRC President Chad Griffin was also at the event, which organizers say is the second-largest HRC fundraising dinner in the nation, topped only by the group’s national dinner in Washington, D.C.
Griffin spoke briefly at the dinner, highlighting HRC’s accomplishments and its future goals.
“After 30 years of losses, all of that is building up to the moment where we can have our first victories,” Griffin said, pointing to last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court rulings on California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. Additionally, he cited the U.S. Senate passage of the ENDA and its growing bipartisan support in the U.S. House.
Griffin said it was time for HRC and the LGBT community to ensure equality reached all the states.
“It’s North Carolina’s turn,” he said. “Equality is not just a New York or California value. It is an American value. It is a North Carolina value. At the end of the day, it is a human value. No one should have to wait their turn for equality.”
HRC, Griffin said, is committed to bringing marriage equality to all 50 states within five years, but will also focus on increasing “fundamental protections” on issues like employment, adoption and HIV/AIDS funding.
“The rising tide of equality — full legal equality — it cannot leave anybody behind,” Griffin said.
Griffin also related the story of his chance meeting with an HIV-positive young man in Jackson, Miss. The man told him he didn’t have access to good jobs or health insurance. Griffin said he offered whatever help he could.
“But, you shouldn’t have to accidentally walk into a room like that,” Griffin added, “to have hope and to believe that people are there to fight for you.”
HRC presented two local awards at the event on Saturday. Greensboro’s Ron Johnson was honored with the 2014 Equality Award for his work as co-founder of Triad Health Project and as a board member for Guilford Green Foundation. Salisbury Pride was given the 2014 Trailblazer Award for their organization’s work in promoting visibility and increasing public support and education about the LGBT community in their hometown.
Organizers reported successes in fundraising and support for its 19th annual event in North Carolina, increasing sponsorship levels to their highest ever. The dinner has been hosted in Charlotte since 2012, with Raleigh hosting the event in 2010 and 2011. Previously, Charlotte hosted the dinner from 2005 through 2009, including a record-breaking year in 2007 attracting more than 1,500 guests. The first HRC galas in the state were held in Greensboro in 1996 and 1997. The event then moved to Raleigh from 1998 through 2002. Greensboro hosted the dinners again in 2003 and 2004.
— Matt Comer
Dinner attracts celebrity guests
Actress Sophia Bush, who is currently starring as Det. Erin Lindsay in “Chicago PD,” received the 2014 Ally for Equality Award. In her acceptance speech and throughout her time on stage, she kept going back to one main message: “Love is love.” She stressed how important it was to be the person that you are already are and not to fit into what others thought you should be.
Actress Teri Polo, currently starring in ABC Family’s “The Fosters, also spoke and introduced her executive producer Peter Paige. “The Fosters” follows a family headed up by two lesbian parents and their natural, adopted and foster children which Paige, along with his writing partner Bradley Bredeweg, created and executive produces. Paige also shares the screenwriting with Bredeweg.
Polo told the crowd she valued and appreciated Paige and said he has grown in her appreciation of the LGBT community because of the work she is now doing.
Polo remained on stage to present Paige with HRC’s 2014 Visibility Award. Paige spoke about his experience in the Tar Heel State, having gone to high school in Raleigh. He was fond of North Carolina and its people. His mother lives in Asheville, too.
A product of divorced parents, he spent a lion’s share of time moving around the country growing up. In fact, he has lived in over a dozen places, from New England to California. He now finds Los Angeles his home base and serves on the board of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.
After his speech, Paige told qnotes he chose to produce “The Fosters” because he wanted to highlight gay and lesbian families. In particular, he said that there had been a great deal of work done around gay men as parents, but saw little of that for lesbians. He wanted to show through his work that LGBT families were no different than straight ones. Mortgages still had to be paid, children had to be cared for, work responsibilities were there, too. He wanted to depict the experience of a blended family and how that was portrayed.
He also felt comfortable working with ABC Family. The network is accepting of diversity.
“We’ve never gotten any push back from the network,” Paige said.They simply have allowed the production to be as it is without censoring it for controversial content.
ABC Family green lighted the show and Paige said that on Feb. 27, the show was going into production for its second season.
Paige and Bredewig are principals of Blazing Elm Entertainment, a production company that created projects for USA and Warner Brothers Televison, among others.
At the end of the night, vocal artist Tiffany lit up the stage with several numbers, including her hit “I Think We’re Alone Now.”
— Lainey Millen