UPDATE: Since this story went to press, the Charlotte City Council did make the decision to vote for the non-discrimination ordinance on Feb. 22.
While the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) 2015 North Carolina Gala was hailed as a wildly successful black-tie fundraiser, selling more than 1,200 tickets and drawing in politicians and celebrities from across the Carolinas last year, not everything went off without a hitch.
Earlier that day, a surprise snowstorm stranded HRC President Chad Griffin on a runway in Washington, D.C. He never made it to event.
The singer who was booked to perform that night also had trouble getting to the gala, just barely making it into the room in time to perform her number.
And despite hundreds of call-to-action postcards littering every table in the room, encouraging attendees to lobby Charlotte’s city council to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes to the local non-discrimination ordinance, city council voted down the proposal 6-5 the following month.
This year, organizers are hoping for better weather, and another shot at swaying city council to expand the ordinance. They may only have a small window to do it, though. The gala is scheduled for Feb. 20. City council is likely to take a vote on Feb. 22, a mere two days later.
“We had hoped that we would have had the vote, and we could be celebrating at our gala,” said Dan Mauney, an event organizer and a past co-chair, (the vote was originally scheduled for Feb. 8, but council members pushed it back to Feb. 22, and they could postpone it further). Now, city council’s delay will give the HRC an opportunity to garner last-minute support in the last days leading up the vote.
This time around, things are looking sunnier for the HRC. Since last year’s defeat, city council added two new members who say they support the ordinance, and the city’s new mayor, Jennifer Roberts, regularly voices her support for LGBT protections — so much so that gala organizers invited her to deliver this year’s welcome speech. (She accepted.)
Still, gala Co-Chair Crystal Richardson says event goers should expect more call-to-action postcards this year, and she hopes to convince them to show up to the Feb. 22 meeting together en-masse.
“It will be so critical,” Richardson said, “We will definitely be advocating for the LGBT community and others at the gala to attend the city council meeting.”
On The Menu: Politics, Performances, and Honorees
For months, volunteers with the HRC have been locating corporate sponsors, fretting over menu items and ensuring there will be enough wine to satisfy a crowd of around 1,200 LGBT people and their allies.
Overseeing the whole operation are the 2016 gala co-chairs: Jason Boone, Richardson and Tracy Sanchez. They have lined up speakers ranging from Jim Obergefell, the Supreme Court plaintiff in Obergefell v. Hodges, to comedian Dana Goldberg. Griffin will also speak at the dinner, and LA-based singer-songwriter Wrabel will perform.
The HRC will also honor this year’s HRC NC Equality Award winners.
The HRC NC’s Person of the Year Award will go to Time Out Youth Center’s executive director, Rodney Tucker.
Tucker has worked with the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (RAIN), and served on the board of directors of the North Carolina AIDS Fund. He also helped create successful events like the annual AIDS Walk and Gay Bingo in Charlotte.
Since becoming executive director of Time Out Youth in 2012, Tucker has expanded the non-profit’s programs to offer increased guidance, counseling and safe spaces to local LGBT teens.
“Time Out Youth has helped schools learn how to deal with out trans students and gender non-conforming students,” said Richardson, “We’re really proud and honored to be able to award Rodney Tucker this year.”
The HRC NC’s Organization of the Year Award will go to the Charlotte LGBT Chamber of Commerce, formerly known as the Charlotte Business Guild.
“And talk about a force,” said Mauney, “that organization has gone from 0 to 60 in less than seconds. And it’s all because of their board, because of their members, and HRC wanted to honor them and recognize them.”
The chamber was formed in 1992 as a network for LGBT friendly businesses, and much of the work the organization has done since focuses on promoting LGBT businesses, sponsoring LGBT events, and advocating for LGBT business and social interests in local government.
After marriage equality victory, gala ticket sales remain strong
The HRC NC Gala is one of the largest of its kind. It consistently surpasses other regional HRC galas in attendance numbers. Since 2007, the HRC NC gala has sold more tickets than galas in Atlanta, Ga., San Francisco, Calif., and even New York, N.Y., Mauney said.
But there were fears among some in the organization that after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality last year, support for the HRC and its regional offices might drop off.
“I think some people thought maybe after marriage equality became the law of the land, we were going to turn our lights off and everyone could go home. You know — our work is done.” said Mauney, “And we’re like, well, we won a part, but we didn’t win the big picture yet.”
While attendance at other HRC galas slightly waned over the last year, Sanchez says ticket sales are remaining steady in North Carolina.
“Our numbers are really strong. They’re very close to last year’s,” Sanchez said, “Now will we get the 1,500 that we were hoping for? Probably not. But all in all, it’s going to be a great attendance.”
HRC representatives declined to say how much money the gala raised in past years.
Early bird ticket sales ended on Feb. 5, and remaining tickets are selling fast. Interested attendees can purchase tickets by visiting hrccarolina.org. Tickets start at $250. Student, senior, and military discounted tickets are also available.
The gala kicks off at 5:45 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 20, at the Charlotte Convention Center, 501 S. College St.