Longtime HRC board member Lucilo Peña now building bridges between the LGBT community and mainstream organizations in Dallas
Lucilo Peña has two loves: architecture and volunteerism.
So in 2000, when his two loves were brought together after his next-door neighbors asked him to volunteer with the Human Rights Campaign, he was all in.
He began volunteering with HRC when the organization was building its new headquarters in Washington, so he was asked to get involved with the building committee. But he also joined the real estate, building design and art committees. He helped oversee everything from planning and construction to finding LGBT artists to contribute their works for the building.
“Basically I had a daytime job and a nighttime job,” Peña said of the time volunteering with HRC while he was president of Billingsley Co., a position he’s held since 1996.
Along with serving on those national committees for almost a decade, Peña also became involved in HRC locally, raising funds for various committees, and he was co-chair of the national and local HRC Major Donor Committee.
But after ending his volunteer roles with HRC to shift into a supportive role, Peña began creating awareness of the LGBT community through other organizations.
“Once I rolled off from HRC, I have really focused on being in various other organizations but being very out and creating programs whereby the LGBT community can participate more actively in these cultural institutions,” he said.
Peña is the Kuchling Humanitarian Award recipient for the 2012 Black Tie Dinner, an honor he called humbling.
Chris Kouvelis, co-chair of BTD, said Peña stood out among candidates for the coveted award because he links so many mainstream organizations to the LGBT community.
“He is so involved in so many organizations and so many of those organizations are not typically LGBT organizations, but he brings the LGBT community along with him,” Kouvelis said. “He brings awareness of the LGBT community to the organizations that he represents. They know that when they get Lucilo Peña, they’re getting a representative from the LGBT community.”
Peña serves as vice president of the Dallas Museum of Art Board of Trustees. He’s a member of the board’s Executive Committee and chairman of its Building Committee. In 2006, he created the DMA/Gay & Lesbian Fund for Dallas Bundling Program, which has raised more than $300,000 to date for sponsoring various exhibitions at the museum.
He also helped create the AT&T PAC/Gay & Lesbian Fund for Dallas Bundling Program for the Capital Campaign as a member of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Board of Directors. He said the PAC ensures that the Gay & Lesbian
Fund for Dallas will be permanently recognized as a $150,000 donor to the campaign through signage on site and in all the center’s playbills.
Peña also serves on several boards for other organizations, including 2×2 for AIDS and Art, Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas Architecture Forum, Cornell University-College of Architecture and Resource Center Dallas’ Capital Campaign Building Committee.
He said many of the organizations were thrilled to give the LGBT community more of a voice, and he’s improving people’s perception of the LGBT community.
“I think that when you hear the words gay and lesbian, usually it is in a political or sexual context, and I think that when you hear the words gay and lesbian in a philanthropic context that straight people that go to the museum or go somewhere else and they see this was brought to us by the gay and lesbian community, all of a sudden it makes you a part of the community,” he said. “I think as a society LGBT today is far more mainstream than it’s ever been, and therefore we need to fully participate in a mainstream way.”
Peña is Cuban and was raised in Venezuela. He came to the U.S. for college and moved to Dallas for a job after graduation.
A month after he moved to Dallas, he met his partner, Lee Cobb. The couple celebrated their 30th anniversary in April. Cobb is involved with the Gay and Lesbian Fund and is on the board of TITAS, the resident dance company at the AT&T Performing Arts Center.
After living in Dallas for several years, Peña took a job in Spain before moving back to work for Billingsley Co. in 1996.
He’s overseen several projects for the company, including One Arts Plaza. He said he loves his job and that most of his volunteer work now focuses on using his expertise and reaching out to the LGBT community.
“I think getting a piece of raw land and saying what can we do here and thinking about it from an architecture perspective, a master planning perspective, how to add value to the whole process, is very exciting,” he said.
Peña said he finds fulfillment in volunteering and adds jokingly that he has become “shameless about asking people for money.”
More seriously, though, Peña said that he thinks he can help the younger LGBT generation with his efforts to bring positive attention to the causes and organizations that are important to the community.
“There’s so many youth that are going through so many issues that we all went through when we were younger,” he said. “And if I’m in a position to try to make a difference, then shame on me if I don’t.”
31st annual Black Tie Dinner
Featuring keynote speaker Meredith Baxter, Media Award winner J.C. Penney, Elizabeth Birch Equality Award winner Chaz Bono and Raymond Kuchling Humanitarian Award winner Lucilo Peña. This year’s theme is “Affair of the Heart” — celebrating the passion that drives the people and organizations behind the annual fundraiser, set for Saturday night at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel. For more info, visit BlackTie.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 2, 2012.