Congresswoman tells Black Tie audience not to give up hope; Wright applauds heroes who chose ‘never to hide a day in your lives’
Tammye Nash | Senior Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
During her keynote address at the 29th annual Black Tie Dinner on Saturday, Nov. 6, openly lesbian Wisconsin Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin wasted no time in acknowledging the apparent blow the Republican victories in this month’s midterm elections dealt to the LGBT community’s push for equality.
“I needed to get away. It’s been a tough week, a very painful week for many Americans,” Baldwin said.
But then she went on to reassure the more than 3,000 people packed into the Sheraton Dallas’ Lone Star Ballroom that “we will see brighter days ahead.”
Baldwin acknowledged that the community’s high hopes when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 have not, for the most part, been met. “There is frustration that we haven’t come far enough, fast enough, and I share that frustration.”
Recalling the last time that Republicans controlled Congress, Baldwin said efforts to secure LGBT equality were “rebuffed at every turn,” and she added that she is “not holding my breath” that things will be different this time, with Republicans controlling the U.S. House and the Senate nearly equally divided between the parties.
Although there is a possibility that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy could be repealed during the upcoming lame duck session, chances are “slim to none for now and for the foreseeable future” that passage of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act and Baldwin’s own Domestic Partnership Benefits and Responsibilities Act and other LGBT-positive measures will happen.
“But that doesn’t mean that we will throw up our hands and give up,” Baldwin said, “because LGBT equality is a movement, not a moment in time.”
Baldwin’s theme of keeping up the fight and looking forward to better days reverberated throughout the evening, as Media Award winner Chely Wright related her life story to the crowd. She spoke of knowing from a young age that she was gay, and how she had struggled to keep her orientation a secret to try and earn — and later, preserve — her career in country music.
“Living two lives is quite a chore,” Wright said, as she talked about reaching a point where “I knew something had to give,” and the cold morning in 2006 when she went so far as putting the muzzle of a 9-mm pistol in her mouth.
But instead of pulling the trigger, Wright said, she prayed to God, as she had all her life. But this time, instead of praying for God to change her, she prayed that God would “give me a moment’s peace.”
Immediately, Wright continued, “oceans and oceans of peace washed over me,” and she knew that not only would she not take her own life, but that she would come out “as a gay woman, as a proud Christian and as an advocate for youth.”
Wright, who came put publicly only six months ago, acknowledged that others in the room had spent much longer fighting for LGBT equality.
“It is a bit of a strange thing to be honored by Black Tie Diner and this esteemed group of people. I look out and see so many of you who have not been able to or who have chosen not to hide a day in your lives, and to have you applaud for me is, well, it’s surreal,” she said.
“I look to you as heroes. … You are simply amazing to me. Thank you for leading the way,” she continued. “It is certainly not lost on me that you folks in this room tonight are the reason that the movement of equality, fairness and understanding continues to evolve.”
The evening began with an appearance by Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns, whose personal and passionate speech before the council last month about teen suicide went viral as a YouTube video and turned him into a national sensation.
Burns reminded the audience that teen suicide and bullying continues to affect LGBT youth at an alarmingly high rate, and led the crowd in a moment of silence in memory of LGBT youth who have died.
After Broadway star Gavin Creel, backed by the Turtle Creek Chorale, performed, the Rev. Carol West, pastor of Celebration Community Church in Fort Worth, came on stage to accept the Kuchling Humanitarian Award.
With a beaming smile, West recalled the early heroes of Dallas-Fort Worth’s LGBT community, reminding the crowd that “we stand on their shoulders” as the movement progresses. But, she added, the community leaders of today must also remember that the leaders of tomorrow “will someday stand on our shoulders.”
Employees of American Airlines were on hand to accept the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award on behalf of their company. Betty Young, director of Diverse Segment Marketing for the airline, said it was “a tremendous honor” for the company and its employees to receive the award.
“American Airlines has always been very involved in Black Tie Dinner and we certainly appreciate all they do. But for the company to be recognized this way, it caused tremendous excitement throughout the company and in each of us who touches this community,” Young said. “We are just honored beyond words.”
Ron Guillard, who co-chaired Black Tie Dinner this year with Nan Arnold, said organizers were “incredibly happy” with how the event turned out.
“And given the fact that we had a full ballroom, and considering how well the luxury auction went, we are feeling very optimistic about having a very generous amount to distribute to our beneficiaries this year,” he said. “We still have money to collect and some bills to pay, but I think this will be a very good year for our beneficiaries.”
Guillard noted that funds from the dinner will distributed to beneficiaries during a reception Dec. 9 at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel.
“We want to encourage the whole community to come out and be part of what is definitely the most important part of Black Tie each year,” Guillard said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 12, 2010.