CHARLOTTE — This
year’s HRC Carolinas Dinner, held in Charlotte for the first time
on Feb. 26, attracted a record 1,345 attendees to the event.
“We thought our original goal was going to be 1,000 to 1,200,” says
HRC Carolinas Dinner co-chair Shane Windmeyer. “It blew us away when
we realized we had exceeded that, and actually sold out.”
According to Joni Madison, also a co-chair for the event, the growth in
attendance was a whopping 68 percent.
“Between ticket sales, silent auction and corporate sponsors, we have an
approximate profit of $195,000 for HRC,” Madison said in an email
sent to Q-Notes.
“During the course of the dinner and Sunday Brunch we received a phenomenal
pledge of $50,000 from Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams. We had 24 to join
[the] Federal Club at a pledge of $1,200 annually. We also had one major
donor pledge $5,000 annually. And don’t forget the numerous pledges
of support of $10 to $100, raising another $9,200. All in all we raised
another $91,000 for the critical work and mission of the Human Rights Campaign.”
Following the silent auction and cocktail social, the dinner portion of
the evening kicked off with a bang as members of the HRC Carolinas committee
participated in a Cirque du Soleil-style opening with massive hand-held
Among the individuals on hand to speak at the dinner were Bank of America’s
Kathy Besen, also the head of Charlotte’s Chamber of Commerce.
Besen was adamant about the importance of the LGBT community in Charlotte
and the Carolinas. Her remarks came in stark contrast to the city’s
Mayor Pat McCrory, who had refused to send a letter of welcome to the record
crowd that attended.
Phil Wells, also a key planner in the HRC Carolinas dinner and a Charlotte-based
activist for LGBT civil rights, sent a request to McCrory’s office
asking the mayor to write a letter of welcome to the HRC dinner attendees,
but received no reply.
McCrory said in the Charlotte Observer he didn’t send the letter
because he disagrees with the Human Rights Campaign’s political agenda,
which includes same-sex marriage.
“They have every right to be here, but I also have the right as mayor not
to show any visible support for the political perspective of the cause
they support,” he said.
“Some groups would possibly promote my [letter] as a validation of my support.
In this case I do not agree with almost all the political agendas they’re
supporting. … I welcome all groups to Charlotte, but I’m not
going to be used as a political pawn.”
McCrory’s statements surprised many, including actor Robert Gant,
a castmember of the series “Queer as Folk” and another keynote
speaker for the event. “You can disagree and you don’t have
to support what HRC stands for,” Gant told the audience, “But
you don’t have to be rude. Where’s that southern hospitality
this area is supposed to be famous for?”
Judy Shepard, mother of slain gay youth Matthew Shepard, also spoke.
“I’m a little nervous,” she chuckled to the crowd. “I
don’t ever do these things with notes, I just kind of fly by the
seat of my pants. I think I do better that way.”
Shepard also condemned McCrory’s lack of etiquette, but focused more
on the positive ties between the gay and straight communities.
“You can’t do it alone,” said Shepard. “You need me and
people like me who care and want to help in ending discrimination and winning
The night included performances by aerial artist Jonathan Nosan and singer
While breaking all previous attendence records in the history of the event,
the numbers also pushed the dinner into the third largest-ranking HRC function
in the country. “Behind Atlanta and Los Angeles,” Windmeyer
He also confirmed that the dinner would be held in Charlotte again next
year. “We signed on for a two-year run,” he explained. “After
that it may move again.”
In the event the dinner does relocate in the future, planners may be faced
with a problem: no other facilty in the Carolinas is as large as the Charlotte
Convention Center. That would mean attendence to future dinners in other
locations would have to be smaller.
“That’s something very difficult that we may have to face,” said
Windmeyer. He also indicated that a new facility in Raleigh that could
be completed in the near future may offer a possible change of address,
while still allowing continued growth.