With his hands in the air and his feet sternly adjacent, rapper Adair Lion spit out the lyrics to his controversial song “BEN” that “gay is okay.” It was a fitting conclusion for the inaugural Equality Texas Ally Awards. As the Individual of the Year recipient wrapped up his surprise performance, the crowd of 50 roared in applause.
Equality Texas, the LGBT advocacy group, hosted its first Ally Awards benefit Friday at the Vendome on Turtle Creek. The successful event awarded strong allies in the community who have gone out of their way to show support in the LGBT fight for equality.
Guests mixed and mingled while enjoying the finely decorated assorted cake balls, donated by the Cupcakery, along with an open bar hosted by Tito’s vodka, and complimentary wine.
Opening the ceremony, dressed in Western wear and topped with his tan cowboy hat, was Wade Hyde, board member for Equality Texas. Hyde thanked the crowed for coming out and announced the first winner of the night, for Business of the Year J.C.Penney. Accepting the award was Wendi Hollenbeck, who was featured in the controversial Mother’s Day ad with her partner Maggie and their daughters. Hollenbeck said she is thankful for the award and hopes more businesses will come out and accept their employees and protect their rights the way J.C. Penney has for her and her family. As Hollenbeck walked off stage she was met with a loving embrace by her partner.
For Civic Leaders of the Year, local President Barack Obama campaign worker Micheal Lee accepted the award. “While it gives me great pleasure to accept this award today it would give me even more pleasure to be able to come back four years from now and say you know we gave that award a little too early because he’s [President Obama] accomplished way more than we ever thought,” said Lee. “This is a down payment on something that is long overdue.”
Rounding out the awards were the recipients for Individuals of the Year, Kaylee Anne Keith and Adair Lion. “I’m very humbled and I will continue to be an ally and continue to share this message,” said Keith, who was honored for her Miss West Texas 2011 anti-bullying platform. Lion, who is engaged to Keith, jumped on stage with a grin and received his award. Lion then explained that Keith’s original platform was specifically for LGBT equality but due to pressure from organizers was forced to change it to the non-controversial issue of bullying.
Lion, who become widely recognized for his recent pro-LGBT song “BEN,” said when he first performed the piece he received negative feed back from crowd. “When I finished the song it was crickets,” said Lion with a laugh. After the YouTube release, he said the song went viral and a new fan base emerged and was giving him more support than he had ever recieved before. “It’s nice to get this response and get this award and know that it wasn’t all in vein,” said Lion.
Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman then took the stage and thanked everyone for their support. Coleman told the crowd about a new bill Equality Texas is pushing that would force all business in Texas to add a non-discrimination clause to their addendum that would protect the jobs of people in the LGBT community. He asked the room to show their full support for the bill and encouraged everyone to help with donations to Equality Texas.
The room packed full of cowboys, cowgirls and everyone in between continued the festivities and the raffle winners were announced. Coleman said he hopes this event will grow bigger and better and will become a staple for Equality Texas.
More photos below.