The Atlanta HRC Dinner celebrates its milestone 25th year May 5, as organizers also hope to help make political history.
U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin will give the keynote address. The Wisconsin Democrat was the first openly gay person elected to Congress, although four House members had come out while in office, and is now campaigning to become the first openly gay U.S. senator.
Sean Hayes, the actor who became famous playing the role of Jack McFarland on NBC’s “Will & Grace,” will be awarded this year’s HRC Visibility Award.
Baldwin “brings the ‘wow factor’ of a history maker” to the Atlanta dinner, according to 2012 Co-chairs Matthew Garrett and Kaitlin Porter.
“Rep. Baldwin is a fierce advocate for the LGBT community, and continues to break barriers. When we hopefully see her elected to the Senate in November, one of the highest glass ceilings for LGBT Americans will have been broken,” Garrett and Porter said in an email interview. “She will energize the crowd, reminding us of the work left to be done and the challenges she and other advocates face on a daily basis in Washington.”
Always carefully crafted to both educate and empower, the Atlanta HRC Dinner raises funds for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT political group. This year’s theme is simple: “Be Part of Equality.”
“From honoring all of the past dinner committees to leaders in the early ‘90s marching in Washington and leading the charge for all us, our theme aptly applies to all of them,” Garrett and Porter noted. “They’ve been part of equality.
“And now as we face the next 25 years, because of their groundwork, we know we will see progress happen more quickly and with broader popular support from general Americans; however, the work must still be done,” they said.
The first Atlanta dinner was held in 1988 — organizers expected about 300 attendees, but almost twice that many came. Last year’s dinner drew more than 1,000 and raised $300,000, with organizers expecting similar numbers for 2012.
“It’s safe to say the Atlanta HRC Gala has raised in the millions of dollars over the past 25 years,” the co-chairs said. “Our Gala is consistently one of the highest net revenue dinners in the country for the Human Rights Campaign. In fact, last year’s dinner was honored by HRC for having the lowest cost of fundraising of all their Gala events in the country.”
The dinner takes place at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, beginning with the VIP reception at 5 p.m. The silent auction opens then for VIP and Federal Club members, and opens its doors to all attendees at 5:45 p.m. The dinner program begins at 7:15 p.m.
Tickets start at $75 for HRC Federal Club members, with general admission going for $200. Special $100 tickets are available to students, current military service members and parents attending with their children. Formal attire is encouraged, though the dinner website notes that business attire is also “welcome.”
The evening includes a performance during the dinner by Frenchie Davis, who gained fame on “American Idol” and “The Voice” and has performed at Pride celebrations around the country.
Popular Atlanta DJ Mike Pope spins for the after-party at the Hyatt immediately following the dinner.
“The entire Dinner Committee is looking forward to an evening of inspiration, nostalgia, tears, cheers and fun. We have worked to create a well-rounded event and we have planned a program that is sure to provide special moments for everyone in the ballroom,” Garrett and Porter said.
Honoring local leaders
The Atlanta HRC Dinner presents two awards to local activists each year. For 2012, the Dan Bradley Humanitarian Award goes to The Health Initiative, which recently broadened its focus and changed its name from the Atlanta Lesbian Health Initiative.
“Quite simply, the Health Initiative is bringing significant awareness to the healthcare concerns of our community. The leadership of the organization and their board of directors are passionately committed to responding to the various needs of the community,” Porter and Garrett said. “That is clear as you study the history of the organization, and how they’ve grown in both scope and mission to better serve the community with each passing year.
The Leon Allen & Winston Johnson Community Service Award will be presented to Rev. Phillip Thomason, who serves as minister of outreach and pastoral care at St. Mark United Methodist Church and has a long list of community involvement, including work with the Atlanta Interfaith AIDS Network and other HIV organizations.
“Rev. Thomason is a local leader making a national impact,” the co-chairs said. “From making each and every church member in his congregation feel valued and loved to serving on President’ Obama’s task force on GLBTQ issues, Rev. Thomason is an inspiring advocate for equality who spreads his message of acceptance throughout the spiritual community in ways that only a member of the clergy can.”
And while this year’s Dinner celebrates the accomplishments of the last quarter-century, both for HRC and the LGBT rights movement as a whole, organizers are also looking to the future.
“We’re looking forward to seeing our guests be entertained and inspired; to the moments they jump to their feet in applause, and the candid moments where they may wipe away a tear in reflection,” Porter and Garrett said.
“And, at the end of it all, we’re really forward to turning off the lights with the knowledge that, on our 25th anniversary, this event not only provided critical funds for the work of HRC, but it also changed lives and inspired people to keep working for the cause.”