Thomas, Anglin and Kuchling discussed how they could turn HRCF’s rep down before deciding to say yes — but still do it ‘the Dallas way’
In 32 years, Black Tie Dinner has raised more than $18 million, distributing the money among more than three dozen organizations.
But it all started one day in the spring of 1982 when John Thomas called Mike Anglin and Ray Kuchling and asked them over to his house to meet his friend, Jim Foster from Washington D.C.
Foster had a proposal to make. He’d been hired as national fundraising coordinator for a new organization called the Human Rights Campaign Fund that would be lobbying Congress for gay and lesbian equal rights. He wanted the Dallas community’s help.
Thomas had known Foster when they lived in South Florida and worked together to fight Anita Bryant’s anti-gay ballot initiative. Because of that connection, Dallas was Foster’s first stop in his efforts to start raising funds.
Anglin said recently that what Thomas knew but didn’t share with him or with Kuchling was that Foster had been active in San Francisco politics where he had been Harvey Milk’s political nemesis.
At their meeting, Foster explained to Thomas, Anglin and Kuchling that he had a strategy to raise the money needed for his new national organization. He was going to the largest urban areas around the country to get community leaders to host a big, fancy banquet, charge $150 per ticket and send the money left over to HRCF.
Foster told the Dallas community leaders he was prepared for resistance, then he stepped out of the room for the three to discuss.
“How do we tell this guy no?” Anglin asked Thomas and Kuchling.
Anglin said in a recent interview that the Dallas activists were already stretched pretty thin after having just launched Razzle Dazzle Dallas and the Turtle Creek Chorale. Both organizations were struggling and needed money. And every Monday the three had their Dallas Gay Alliance meetings. The Baker v. Wade case challenging the Texas sodomy law was ongoing and its legal costs were mounting.
“There wasn’t room for more,” Anglin said.
But as the three talked, Anglin said he remembered something his grandmother from North Carolina used to say: If you want something done, find a very busy person to do it.
After talking about why they shouldn’t stage the dinner, Anglin said they goaded each other into the possibility of saying yes.
“I will consider adding it to my plate, but only if you’ll be on the steering committee and get it done with me,” Thomas said.
Anglin said they’d need a bigger boat. They were going to have to plug into a larger group, including financially comfortable people in Dallas’ LGBT community. The only way to do it was to lock in the support of Dick Weaver, Anglin said.
“We threw a cocktail party in my living room,” recalled Weaver, who invited friends to come over the next night.
“I didn’t know if anyone would show up,” he said. “Everyone invited did. That got the ball rolling.”
Several people agreed to be on the board. Others said they didn’t care to serve on a board, but they’d buy tickets or sell tables.
“That’s all I needed to hear,” Anglin said.
But there was one sticking point. Foster said his concept was for this to be an HRCF event — owned and controlled by D.C.
“We had to explain to him Texans had this thing,” Anglin said. “We don’t like following directions from D.C.”
Anglin told Foster Dallas would do this dinner.
“We hope to make enough money to send you proceeds,” he said. “But this is going to be a locally owned and controlled project.”
Today, with about 50 dinners held to support HRC around the country, the Dallas dinner remains the only one locally controlled.
The first year, 140 people attended the dinner held at the Fairmont Hotel and Dallas sent HRCF $6,000.
“That first dinner was mostly men rattling around in that big ballroom,” Weaver said.
The second year, Dallas was beginning to deal with AIDS, so proceeds were split between HRCF and the newly-created Foundation for Human Understanding, now known as Resource Center. Attendance increased by 100 and proceeds that year more than doubled, so HRCF got a small increase in funds.
By the fourth year, the board of the Dallas dinner made a proposal to the community. Other nonprofits were offered the chance to benefit from the event. Of the $150 ticket cost, $50 would go to the cost of staging the banquet. Another $50 would go to HRCF and the remaining $50 could be designated to a local nonprofit.
“Tickets were flying out the door,” Anglin said.
The Turtle Creek Chorale, Metropolitan Community Church (now known as Cathedral of Hope) and the now-defunct Oak Lawn Counseling Center and Texas Human Rights Foundation each received a portion of the $43,700 proceeds.
At the second dinner, John Thomas announced that a “humanitarian award” would be presented at the dinner each year. Weaver said they waited for Thomas to sit down before announcing Thomas was the award’s first recipient.
In 1991, not long before Kuchling died, the committee decided to name the award after him. When the committee met, Weaver said they also decided to award it to Kuchling that year. The following year, after Kuchling had died, his parents attended the dinner and presented that year’s Kuchling Award to Reed Hunsdorfer and Lory Masters.
Over the years, the dinner has developed into a much more elaborate affair:
The first dinner journal, which was 20 pages, was printed in 1986. Last year’s journal was 128 pages and hard cover. Table captains and co-chairs were terms adopted by Black Tie in 1988 as the structure of the dinner became more formal.
In 1989, a raffle and the silent auction — or “y’all’s little garage sale,” as Gov. Ann Richards referred to it when she spoke at the 1995 dinner — were added. The name Black Tie Dinner replaced the term Dallas Dinner Committee in 1990.
Attendance topped 1,000 for the first time in 1990. By 1992, more than 2,000 people participated and in 1995, 3,000 people.
The beneficiary video became part of the dinner in 2002.
In 2013, Wendy Davis, who had just announced her candidacy for governor, was a surprise speaker. She posed for photos at a special reception before the dinner and asked everyone there to hold off posting the pictures to Facebook. Once on stage, she told everyone to bombard social media and thousands of pictures of attendees with Davis went viral.
Proceeds from the 25th anniversary dinner in 2006 were a record $1,350,000.
This year, the ticket price was raised from $300 to $400. With that pricier ticket, proceeds could approach record levels again.
Weaver, who’s always looking ahead, said the 50th anniversary dinner is just 17 years away and he is already looking forward to it.
33rd annual Black Tie Dinner
Nov. 15, 2014
Sheraton Dallas, 400 N. Olive St.
Kuchling Award winner: Mike Anglin
Elizabeth Birch Award winners:
Ted Olson and David Boies
Human Rights Campaign
AIDS Interfaith Network
AIDS Outreach Center
AIDS Service Dallas
Celebration Community Church
Congregation Beth El Binah
Equality Texas Foundation
Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund
Legacy Counseling Center
Legal Hospice of Texas
Northaven United Methodist Church
Turtle Creek Chorale
Women’s Chorus of Dallas
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 14, 2014.