In the wake of last month’s Supreme Court hearings on gay marriage, Georgia Equality and Lambda Legal teamed up to host a discussion of the potential impact of the cases.

Georgia Equality streamed the event live for those who could not come to the Phillip Rush Center in Atlanta, and the opportunity for online attendees to chat proved interesting.

At one point, one online attendee asked if Georgia Equality is basically a local chapter of the national Human Rights Campaign, receiving money from HRC. The answer, of course, is that Georgia Equality (our state’s largest LGBT political group) and HRC (the nation’s largest LGBT political group) are two completely separate organizations, with no shared funding.

Know where your money goes

What would happen if all of the 1,200 attendees at the Atlanta HRC Dinner also donated even $20 to local organizations?

This person was genuinely surprised, and said he thought a portion of his monthly HRC donations also supported Georgia Equality.

Think about that: Here is a person who is already more politically involved than many LGBT Georgians. He was informed enough to know about Georgia Equality’s forum and to devote an evening to watching an analysis of the cases.

He was also already a regular donor to HRC, when a 2012 study found that only 3 percent of LGBT adults donate $35 or more per year to national gay groups.

Yet even someone that involved didn’t know exactly where his money is going. If he was confused, what about the rest of our community?

We need the national fight

It’s a common misconception that some of the money from HRC events — including the massive HRC Atlanta Dinner, set for May 4 this year — goes to local battles for LGBT rights.

That’s not HRC’s fault. The organization never states that any proceeds from the dinner or other events go to local causes, although many people make that assumption, perhaps due to HRC’s dedicated local volunteers and annual local award winners.

There is also nothing wrong with local money going to fight for LGBT issues at the national level. In fact, it is vitally important, especially for states like Georgia.

The hard truth is that big victories like marriage equality, or even laws to ban job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity for public AND private employees, aren’t going to happen in GOP Georgia any time soon. We need national wins on these issues to trickle down here.

Those two battles are ongoing, but Georgia has also already reaped benefits from national LGBT victories.

HRC played a lead role in lobbying for the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. On April 18, two of the men who attacked Atlanta resident Brandon White because he is gay pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes charges.

While the assailants had already been convicted for the beating in Fulton County Superior Court, they couldn’t be charged with hate crimes there, because Georgia doesn’t have a hate crime law.

We need national organizations fighting for national laws related to LGBT rights, and if every community kept their money local, there wouldn’t be any national groups.

Clearing up confusion

Nevertheless, the fact that confusion exists over where money raised by HRC goes, and that HRC is clearly sensitive about talking about it, points to a need for more open discussion and possible change.

Last year’s HRC Atlanta Dinner raised approximately $400,000, but the national organization won’t release many details about that money.

Asked by GA Voice for our story that appears on Page 6, HRC stated that the $400,000 is gross proceeds — in other words, money that came in before expenses.

The organization would not release the breakdown of sources for the proceeds (how much from tickets, corporate sponsorships, silent auction, etc.) or a breakdown or exact figure for expenses, although leaders indicated that net proceeds “average” 70 percent.

We also asked if HRC “provides any monetary support to local efforts here in GA.”

In response, HRC leaders noted “HRC provides support – both in man hours and resources to federal officials from Georgia who advocate for LGBT equality legislation” and also listed the inclusion of Georgia companies and cities in its Corporate Equality Index and Municipal Equality Index.

But as LGBT Georgians know, we don’t have many federal elected officials worthy of HRC support. A search of the Federal Election Commission website turned up a total of $6,000 donated by the HRC PAC to U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, along with $1,000 donated to the campaign of Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) during the same period.

That’s a total of $7,000 donated to Georgia candidates over four years, a period in which the HRC Dinners raised easily $1 million here.

That HRC chose to list the corporate and municipal equality indexes when asked about money spent in Georgia is also interesting.

Certainly the two indexes cost money to produce, and they are definitely useful lobbying tools on how corporations and cities — including some in Georgia — stack up. Still, creating these is not the same as providing monetary support directly to local efforts.

Money talks

HRC already does tremendous work at the national level. The Atlanta dinner also helps inspire local attendees to keep fighting for our equality. The dinner could go a step further, and generate tremendous goodwill, by considering donating even a small portion of the money raised back to Atlanta organizations.

The $400,000 raised at last year’s HRC Atlanta Dinner is more than $70,000 higher than the entire annual budget for Georgia Equality. If HRC pledged to donate just $10,000 from the dinner back to an Atlanta group, it would be only 2.5 percent of the $400,000 proceeds, but could make a big impact here.

The donation could come as a grant to an organization chosen by that year’s dinner committee, or it could be linked to the local activism awards.

But those who attend the HRC Dinner shouldn’t simply wait for the national organization to do their donating for them.

Just as you need to vote and reach out to your own elected officials, you also need to make sure that you spread out your donations among all of the LGBT causes that motivate you.

To his credit, the person on the Georgia Equality webcast who thought part of his HRC donation went to Georgia Equality immediately pledged to also make donations directly to the state organization after learning that it didn’t.

More of us should follow his lead — especially since the small donations that most of us can easily afford can go a long way for local groups.

What would happen if everyone who goes to the HRC Atlanta Dinner donated just $20 to a local organization? Spread over 1,200 attendees, it would mean an influx of $24,000 into organizations here.

To put it in perspective, that’s more than 10 percent of the annual budget for the Health Initiative, “Georgia’s voice for LGBTQ health.”

It is also almost 25 percent of the annual budget for Lost-n-Found Youth, a local group that helps homeless LGBT young people; and it is a whopping 50 percent of the money that the Phillip Rush Center, our LGBT community center, needs to raise in the next six months to complete renovations and expansion plans.

When it comes to fighting for LGBT equality, it’s important to both talk the talk, and walk the walk.

And while we should never underestimate the power of volunteer hours and grassroots outreach, we have to acknowledge that money talks.