At a recent reception at the upscale STK restaurant and bar in Midtown, dozens of Human Rights Campaign members gathered to network, socialize and bid on some silent auction items while they sipped cocktails.
The members and supporters were just weeks away from the annual Atlanta Gala Dinner, set for May 4 at the Hyatt Regency, and several members excitedly received their nametags noting they are officially members of the dinner committee.
About an hour into the party, dinner co-chairs Andrew Land and Kaitlin Porter stood atop a counter and toasted everyone for coming out. Porter announced the dinner is almost sold out so people need to buy their tickets now.
Molly Simmons, a nine-year member of HRC, was sipping on a green cocktail with basil and a jalapeño pepper floating in it. As a member of HRC’s national board of governors, she also fundraises locally for the Federal Club Council, the organization’s major donor program. In addition, Simmons is a patron of For the Kid in All of Us and a member of Georgia Equality’s dues sustaining program.
“HRC is the country’s biggest civil rights organization advocating for the rights of LGBT people. The people in Congress have to listen to HRC when we show up to lobby because we are so big and that makes us very effective to getting key pieces of legislation passed,” she said.
Simmons listed repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and talking to legislators about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill to ban job bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity set for reintroduction in Congress this week.
Last year’s Atlanta HRC dinner raised $400,000 prior to expenses, and all of it was sent to the national organization in Washington, D.C.
This is a good use of local money, Simmons stressed.
“HRC works on talking to members of Congress from Georgia just like everyone else. It may be that today, right now, Georgia may not be high on the radar and that means not sending staff here,” she said.
But what HRC does at the national level will impact and help turn the tide here, she said.
While LGBT people live in 50 different states, there needs to be an organization keeping tabs on the federal government because the federal government is “all of us,” Simmons added.
Show us the money
While HRC likes to talk about its work at the federal level, it is reticent when discussing monetary specifics in Georgia.
Questions about money HRC spends in Atlanta and Georgia were not addressed with specific numbers; instead, HRC leadership provided general answers that included the national organization providing “resources” and “man hours” to local agencies and politicians.
“HRC provides support in both in man hours and resources to federal officials from Georgia who advocate for LGBT equality legislation,” said Atlanta dinner co-chair Land, who also noted Georgia companies and municipalities being listed in HRC’s equality indexes.
The $400,000 raised here last year went to “HRC’s political work on Capitol Hill, in State Houses and in city halls across the country to help pass LGBT-friendly legislation and help pro-equality candidates get elected to office.”
When asked the breakdown of the $400,000 raised last year — how much came from corporate sponsorship, how much from ticket sales, etc. — HRC leaders answered: “Given the proceeds of all activities surrounding the dinner gala go directly toward supporting HRC programs and advocating for equality issues for all LGBT Americans, HRC only communicates the total proceeds raised.”
Asked for a total and breakdown of expenses for the Atlanta event, Land said HRC does not report expenses associated with each dinner. Annually, HRC’s gala dinner and auction in Atlanta averages giving more than 70 percent of all proceeds to the work HRC does in Washington and across the country, leaders said.
“Since HRC was founded in 1980, its members and staff have worked tirelessly for all LGBT people and all Americans in all 50 states,” Land said. “If you look at the repeal of DADT, that’s as much a Georgia accomplishment as an American accomplishment.”
Total 2012 national income for HRC was nearly $46 million, up from $43 million the previous year, according to its annual report. The HRC Foundation, which works on research, advocacy and education, had an income of $35 million, also up another $3 million from 2011.
Atlanta’s HRC steering committee is all volunteers and all work with and support local LGBT organizations in addition to volunteering for HRC. Individual HRC Atlanta volunteers also donate time and money to Atlanta-based LGBT organizations, leaders said.
This year, an HRC political co-chair living in Atlanta helped Georgia Equality lobby for the Georgia Fair Employment Practices Act, first introduced in 2011 by state Rep. Karla Drenner. The bill would add “sexual orientation” to protected statuses for public employment in Georgia.
One of the country’s best dinners
Atlanta’s HRC dinner is continually praised at a national level for its success. At this year’s Equality Convention in Washington, D.C., the Atlanta dinner received the Dinner Committee of the Year award and also was awarded for its excellence for meeting and exceeding ticket revenue, Land said.
The dinner takes a full year to plan, said Porter.
“We start planning a couple weeks after the last dinner when we debrief over the previous dinner to figure out what went right and what needs to improve,” she said.
There are some 30 committees that make the dinner happen, everything from corporate sponsor committee to table captain committee to the silent auction committee.
This year, Matthew Morrison of the Fox hit TV show “Glee” provides the star power and will receive the Ally for Equality Award. HRC President Chad Griffin will speak at this year’s dinner as well.
Joining Hearts will receive the Dan Bradley Humanitarian Award and the Leon Allen & Winston Johnson Community Service Award will go to Michael Shutt, director of Emory University’s Office of LGBT Life.
The cast from Serenbe Playhouse’s production of “Hair” will open the dinner and closing entertainment will be by Niki Harris, a Madonna background singer and dancer.
Top photo: Above: Last year’s Atlanta HRC Dinner honorees included actor Sean Hayes and Tammy Baldwin (center), now the first out gay U.S. Senator. (Photo by Brent Corcoran/RNZ Photography)