HRC Carolinas Gala: Largest Dinner in the Nation

Oh what a blast!

Jennifer Holliday, Leslie Jordan (pictured right, center stage), Amber, Joe Solmonese, and so many other folks just look fabulous on the stage!

I had so much fun last night at the Human Rights Campaign Carolinas Gala. With over 1500 attendees, the dinner was the largest HRC dinner in the entire nation, even beating out the national DC dinner!

Did you hear that? North Carolina, a so-called “red state” hosted the largest HRC Gala in the entire nation! The largest gathering of HRC-affiliated gay and straight people working and striving for equality.

Last night was “our night” as the dinner co-chairs reminded us numerous times and I and all my friends certainly took a break from our normal, busy and hectic lives full of usually nothing but LGBT equality work to have fun.

Despite the fact that Operation Save America and their Reverend Flip Benham remained outside of the Charlotte Convention Center shooting off at the mouth the entire night, the event was surely a success!

Can’t wait ’till next year!
“If you could read my mind love” Amber
Performed at the HRC Carolinas Gala 2007 (although this is not a recording from the dinner, sorry – She’s much better live!)UPDATE: I usually don’t ever do this, but I’m going to go ahead and publish the text of my next opinions column (which will be published either on Tues. Feb 27 or Tues. March 6 in The Carolinian at UNCG… the column is on the dinner:

Showing our strength
HRC Carolinas dinner shines bright

by Matt Hill Comer, Don’t Ask (I’m Telling)
The Carolinian

No amount of protest could stop it. No amount of outcry against it could prevent it. On Saturday, February 24, 2007, over 1500 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and straight allied people from North and South Carolina converged on Charlotte, NC, for the twelfth annual Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Carolinas Gala.

Hosted at the Charlotte Convention Center, the dinner included an outstanding performance from Jennifer Holliday, the original Broadway star in Dream Girls and a stunning keynote address which served to be more like stand-up comedy night from the acclaimed comedian and actor Leslie Jordan (Sordid Lives, Will & Grace). The dinner attendees were also privy to what can be described as nothing but a brilliantly empowering and exciting political address from Joe Solmonese, the president of HRC and a special, surprise performance by pop/dance singer Amber, who sang her wonderful renditions of “If You Could Read My Mind” and “This is Your Night.”

North and South Carolina hardly seem to be the places in the nation where a top-level, star-studded, gay extravaganza could be held. You also would not think that our two little “red states” would play host to the largest HRC-affiliated evening dinner & fundraiser in the entire United States. Indeed, the HRC Carolinas Gala was so large that it beat out the national HRC dinner held in Washington, DC, every year.

I’ve been privileged to attend the HRC Carolinas Gala three times, first in 2004, then last year and again this year. Each time I have the chance to attend the dinner (something I hope to make a yearly tradition), I come back to Greensboro and Winston-Salem feeling empowered and refreshed. It is an absolutely wonderful feeling to be surrounded by like-minded people who believe in the struggle for full equality for LGBT people as much as I do.

The HRC Gala is much more than a simple dinner. In attending, I have the chance to meet and spend time with friends and colleagues from across the state. We get to chat it up with the leaders of our social justice movement, shoot around ideas for new activities, events and activism projects and catch up on all the latest, on-the-ground news of the current state and strength of the fight we know is right, the fight we know we will win.

While 1500 committed activists and supporters for equality enjoyed their evening safely inside the convention center, controversy expounded outside. A radical, right-wing Christian activist group known as Operation Save America and led by the Reverend Flip Benham, based out of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg metro area, held huge signs printed with Bible verses which, supposedly, condemn homosexuality and blasted their hate-filled and bigoted rhetoric through loud speakers. They even had the gall to get their protest permit for the corner of Stonewall and South College Street, the very corner in downtown Charlotte which Gala attendees would have to pass in order to get from the Westin Hotel to the entrance of the convention center.

Walking through the throng of wild-eyed crazies was tough enough, but then came the best part. The “fearless leader” of the band of radicals stood right in front of the entrance to the convention center. He looked right at me and said that I needed Jesus and needed to be saved.

“I’m already saved, sir, and Jesus is my Saviour,” I responded.

“Oh, no he isn’t son!” He exclaimed.

“Shut up!” I heard an elderly women scream toward Benham as I walked away.

All I could do was laugh and I did so, almost uncontrollably.

Echoing the statements of Leslie Jordan, I must say that it is refreshing to see the Irreligious Wrong so upset over the victories we know we will be making in this struggle for equality in years to come. They know we are winning and we are winning because we are right!

Empowering and refreshing, that the dinner was. The time spent having fun with friends and eating the fantastic dinner, meeting the other youth active and committed to the struggle for equality and going out afterward for a night on the town was definitely a great way to spend my weekend.

If you ever get the chance to attend the HRC Carolinas Gala, I hope that you will and I’m sure you’ll find the experience as invigorating as I did. It isn’t too expensive to go, especially if you apply for the youth “scholarship” award, which pays for youth ages 18-24 to attend the dinner (that is definitely the only reason I got to go).

You’ll come back feeling empowered and ready to continue our common goal to finally realize a day when all are equal, regardless of sexual orientation and gender-identity.

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