First open lesbian member of Congress will appear at the Nov. 6 fundraising event for HRC
Tammye Nash | Senior Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Choosing speakers and award recipients for Black Tie Dinner each year requires a delicate balancing act between big names with the drawing power of celebrity and deserving individuals who can “speak to the issues of the LGBT community,” Black Tie co-chairs Ron Guillard and Nan Arnold explained.
In 2009, the dinner committee brought in a slate of LGBT allies who hit that mark well: San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom as keynote speaker, Judy Shepard, mother of anti-gay-hate-murder victim Matthew Shepard as the Elizabeth Birch Award winner and singer/songwriter/activist Cyndi Lauper as the Media Award winner.
Each of them, the co-chairs said, not only had the star power to draw attention, they also could — and did — speak eloquently on the community’s issues.
But while 2009 was “all about the allies,” this year it’s “all about the community,” Guillard said this week when he and Arnold announced the last two names in Black Tie’s list of award winners and speakers.
U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the Wisconsin Democrat who is the only out lesbian in Congress, will be the keynote speaker at this year’s annual fundraising gala, set for Nov. 6 at the Sheraton Dallas hotel.
And this year’s Media Award goes to country/western star and newly-out lesbian Chely Wright.
“It’s been mine and Nan’s mantra this year to ‘fill the room’ for Black Tie Dinner,” Guillard said. “We think that Rep. Baldwin and Chely Wright will certainly help us do that.”
Activist and businessman Mitchell Gold will also attend to present the Media Award to Wright.
Baldwin and Wright join a line-up of award winners and entertainers that already included the Rev. Carol West, pastor of Celebration Community Church, as the Kuchling Memorial Award winner, American Airlines as the Elizabeth Birch Award winner and Broadway star Gavin Creel and Dallas’ own Turtle Creek Chorale to provide entertainment.
Guillard said organizers chose Baldwin as keynote speaker in recognition of her years of service in Congress and her status and the first openly LGBT person elected to office at the national level. (Although there were openly gay men in Congress before Baldwin was elected, they were not out when they were first elected, while Baldwin was.)
“Plus, we felt that, especially with the dinner happening the first weekend after the midterm elections on Nov. 2 and the fact that we could very possibly be facing a drastically changed political landscape, Tammy will be able to provide us with some very clear leadership and vision going forward,” Guillard said.
Arnold added, “She can do that for us regardless of the outcome of the elections. Last year, Gavin Newsome very clearly spoke to our community. But he is not gay. Tammy Baldwin can not only speak to the LGBT community, she is the LGBT community.”
Baldwin, who is out of the country, sent a statement via her office. She said:
“I’m simply delighted to have been invited to deliver the keynote at this year’s Black Tie Dinner. After a tough election season, it will be a pleasure to relax among DFW friends and celebrate how far we’ve come in our quest for LGBT equality. It’s also a night to show our support for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the many local organizations that serve the north Texas LGBT community. On top of all that, the musical entertainment sounds great, so I’m really looking forward to the evening.”
Voters in Wisconsin’s Second District first elected Baldwin to Congress in 1999, after she had spent several years in the state’s legislature. Since then, Baldwin has co-founded and co-chaired the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, and in 2009 she helped lead the successful effort to enact the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Act.
Baldwin has also worked for passage of a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that includes protections for transgender people and full repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
She is the author of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act and the first comprehensive approach to improving all areas of the health-care system where LGBT Americans face inequality and discrimination.
Although Wright is “clearly in a very commercial business,” Guillard said, he and Arnold said they were impressed by the singer’s consistent efforts, since she came out, to help LGBT youth “who are being taught they are damaged goods.”
“She makes the point, time and again, that country music is right in the heart of Middle America, a more blue collar audience, and those [LGBT] children, those families, really need someone to identify with,” Guillard said.
“She goes out of her way to say that it’s important to her to not only be her whole self but to also reach out and be a role model to young people who are struggling to come out,” he said. “She hasn’t been out very long, true, but it was the consistency of that message and her obvious passion for it that made us choose her.”
Arnold said that Wright’s decision to come out is “creating an opportunity for the voices of acceptance and equality to be heard.”
(For more about Wright, read Rich Lopez’s interview with her on Page 1.)
Gold is the founder of the nonprofit organization Faith in America, which is dedicated to educating people about how religious-based bigotry is used to justify anti-LGBT discrimination, will present the Media Award to Wright, who recently joined the board of Faith in America.
Gold, chairman and founder of the furniture manufacturer Mitchell Gold Company, has also authored “Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America” and books on home furnishings.
Arnold said Black Tie organizers are “ahead of where we were at this time last year” in terms of ticket sales for the fundraiser.
“We are focused on filling the room, and it definitely looks like we are headed in that direction,” she said.
Guillard said, “We are doing a lot of innovative things this year to fill the room — happy hours, using Facebook a lot more to attract new people.
“There was a time when our whole community was galvanized by AIDS and by the oppression we faced. But with Black Tie ending its third decade now, we realize that reaching a new, younger audience requires using new tools. And we are doing that,” he said.
Arnold said organizers have also focused this year on making sure that the dinner’s beneficiaries remember that “this dinner is for them. They are why we do this.”
Guillard noted, “We want to fill the room, because when you get down to the basics, filling the room means maximizing the dollars for our beneficiaries.”
The announcement of Baldwin as keynote speaker and Wright as Media Award winner came Thursday night, Aug. 5 during an announcement party held at Park Place Motorcars on Lemmon in Dallas.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 6, 2010.