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HRC Carolinas Dinner a huge success
Move to Charlotte brings increase in attendance and funds raised

by David Moore
Q-Notes staff

Judy Shepard: ‘You need me and people like me who care and want to help … .’


Martha Wash performed during the HRC Carolinas Dinner festivities.


Mitchell Gold was inspiring with his $50,000 pledge.

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 stick puppets.

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 your rights.”

The night included performances by aerial artist Jonathan Nosan and singer Martha Wash.

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 offered excitedly.

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.

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