BTD beneficiary applications begin Feb. 1

30TH ANNIVERSARY | Nan Arnold and Ron Guillard chaired the 2010 Black Tie Dinner that distributed more than $1 million to 20 beneficiaries.

Organizers promise more announcements are coming soon about 30th annual dinner

From Staff Reports
editor@dallasvoice.com

Officials with Black Tie Dinner this week announced that the organization will begin accepting applications Feb. 1 from potential beneficiaries of the 30th annual event, set for Nov. 12 at Sheraton Dallas hotel.

Each year, money raised by the dinner is divided between the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and local beneficiary organizations. As many as 20 local beneficiaries are chosen each year.

Beneficiary applications will be available on the BTD website on Feb. 1, and the deadline for submitting applications is. Feb. 25.

The names of those organizations chosen as beneficiaries will be announced March 30.

Eligible groups must have tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status with the IRS and must demonstrate service to the LGBT community, using a majority of their funds for direct programs and services.

Officials also said this week that other announcements about plans for the 30th annual Black Tie Dinner can be expected in the next week.

The dinner began in 1982 when organizers donated about $6,000 to HRCF and has grown into the largest LGBT fundraising dinner of its kind in the country. More than $15 million has been distributed to beneficiaries since then.

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin was the headliner of the 2010 Black Tie Dinner. Others that have appeared include Gov. Ann Richards, Maya Angelou, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Gavin Newsom.

The dinner committee honors individuals and corporations that have made contributions to the fight for LGBT rights both locally and nationally. Rev. Carol West and singer Chely Wright were 2010 recipients. Others have included Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Shepard and Bishop Gene Robinson.

Chris Kouvelis and Nan Arnold are this year’s Black Tie Dinner chairs.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011.

—  John Wright

Baldwin: ‘We will see brighter days ahead’

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 nash@dallasvoice.com

Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin
Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin. To see a slideshow from Black Tie, go here.

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.

—  Michael Stephens

WATCH: Tammy Baldwin at Black Tie

Congressman Barney Frank, D-Mass., told The Washington Blade on Tuesday there is “zero chance” of passing pro-equality legislation in the new Republican-controlled House next year. Three days before, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin told attendees at Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner pretty much the same thing.

“The last time Republicans were in control of Congress, we fought hard for consideration of pro-equality measures, and we were rebuffed at every turn,” Baldwin said. “Within the new Republican leadership and among the incoming class of members, I don’t see many champions of gay rights. Now it’s my hope the Republican majority won’t revert to its prior agenda, which forced us to play defense, fighting back anti-equality measures, but I’m not holding my breath.”

Baldwin said that while a repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” is still “possible” during the lame duck session of Congress, the same cannot be said for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or the Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligations Act.

“Unfortunately the chances of enacting these measures are slim to none for now and for the foreseeable future,” Baldwin said. “Now that doesn’t mean we’re going to throw up our hands and give up. We will keep on moving forward, because LGBT equality is a movement, not a moment in time, and as with every great movement of social change, it requires that we have faith — faith that, using the tools of our democracy we can affect change, even when it’s our government that’s denying us our rights.”

Watch Baldwin’s full speech above.

—  John Wright

2010 Black Tie Dinner

Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin

Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin

The 2010 Black Tie Dinner will be held Saturday, Nov. 6, at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel.

The theme for the annual fundraising event this year is “Stand Strong.”

Keynote speaker for the evening will be openly-lesbianof Wisconsin. The Rev. Carol West will received the KuchlingHumanitarian Award, and American Airlines will receive the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award. Activist and businessman Mitch Gold will be on hand to present the Media Award to out lesbian and country/western star Chely Wright.

Special entertainment will be provided by Broadway star Gavin Creel and the Turtle Creek Chorale.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

LGBT groups react to big losses in House, Senate

From Staff and Wire Reports

Republicans won control of the U.S. House in Tuesday’s elections. As of 3 a.m. Wednesday, it appeared the GOP will hold at least 234 seats, to Democrats’ 180.

But Democrats retained a slim majority in the U.S. Senate — holding 51 seats, compared to the Republicans’ 47. At 3 a.m. Wednesday, Senate races in Washington State and Colorado were considered too close to call.

The LGBT community will be able to celebrate the addition of a fourth openly gay member to the House and the re-election of the three openly gay incumbents, but the loss of a Democratic majority in that chamber spells the end for hope that any of the dozen or so pro-gay measures pending in Congress have any chance of advancing in the next two years. The new Republican majority also increases the likelihood that measures hostile to LGBT civil rights issues can be publicized through hearings in committee that will, starting next January, be chaired by Republicans.

“Social justice movements always experience steps forward and steps back and this election turned out to be a mix of both,” Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said in a statement reacting to the election results. “Even though we will face greater challenges in moving federal legislation forward, nothing will stop us from using every tool to advance LGBT equality at every level. Attempts to hold back the tide of the equality movement will surely put anti-LGBT leaders on the wrong side of history.”

While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made many promises to move LGBT legislation on her watch, the next likely speaker, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, has a score of zero on gay-related matters in the past three sessions of Congress, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Two other political zeros will be at his side: Eric Cantor of Virginia as the likely minority whip, and Mike Pence of Indiana, as Republican Conference Chair.

“We will be prepared to fight attempts to turn back the clock on equality as well as highlight how far this new leadership is outside the mainstream of public opinion,” Solmonese said. “We need not look any further than their decade of House control that brought us attempts to pass a federal marriage amendment, strip courts of jurisdiction to hear LGBT rights claims, cut HIV/AIDS funding and vilify openly LGBT appointees.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said: “We’ll cut to the chase: The shift in the balance of power will very likely slow advancement of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights legislation in Congress. Does this mean a blockade on LGBT rights? Not if we can help it. Fact is, our community has always had to fight — and fight hard — for equality. This is nothing new to us. But here’s another fact: There are Americans, from every part of the country, from every background, from every political leaning and of every faith, who support equality for LGBT people — and those numbers grow bigger every day.”

“No matter what the political breakdown is in Washington, the Task Force will continue to identify and work with all fair-minded members of Congress who are willing to support and defend equality for LGBT people,” Carey said. “Through our New Beginning Initiative, we will continue to push for the administration and its agencies to make tangible changes that benefit lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and our families — changes that can be done without Congress. We will continue working with local partners in communities across the country to secure equality. Bottom line: While political winds and players may shift, the fundamental needs of the people do not. No matter who is in office, people need jobs, protection from discrimination, a roof over their heads, a way to feed their families, a fair shake. No one should settle for less — we won’t.”

On the bright said, openly gay Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., and Jared Polis, D-Colo., will return to their seats in the next Congressional session. And they will be joined by the openly gay mayor of Providence, R.I., who will be representing that state’s 1st Congressional district. Two other openly gay candidates for Congress on Tuesday did not succeed — Steve Pougnet in California and Ed Potosnak in New Jersey.

There were numerous other losses for the LGBT community to mourn in Tuesday’s results. U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Penn., who led the charge to gain passage of a measure to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” lost his seat to Republican challenger Michael Fitzpatrick. And five other strong LGBT supporters lost Tuesday night, including Reps. Phil Hare of Illinois, (Illinois’ 17th Congressional district), John Hall and Michael Arcuri of New York, John Salazar of Colorado and Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire. Hare earned a 100 percent score from HRC; Hall earned a 90, Arcuri an 85; and Salazar and Shea-Porter an 80.

Among other candidates with LGBT support who lost Tuesday night included Arizona Democratic Rep. Harry Mitchell, who voted for ENDA in 2007 and opposed an amendment to ban same-sex marriage in the federal constitution. Mitchell was defeated by Republican David Schweikert, who has said, “Traditional marriage is the basis for a functional society.” Texas Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards earned an HRC contribution even though he was not a strong supporter of equal rights for gays. But he was trounced by an even more conservative Republican opponent, Bill Flores. Flores says he believes “there is one definition of marriage and that is between one man and one woman” and has said he will “stand firm against any effort to change this or force Texas to recognize ‘gay marriages’ in other states.”

Twelve of the 17 Republican candidates endorsed by Log Cabin Republicans won their races Tuesday night, including Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Judy Biggert of Illinois, Todd Platts and Charles Dent of Pennsylvania, Dave Reichert of Washington, Leonard Lance of New Jersey, and Nan Hayworth and Richard Hanna of New York. One painful loss for Log Cabin was Republican was incumbent Joseph Cao of Louisiana. The group just this year presented Cao with its “Spirit of Lincoln” award for his support on the hate crimes bill and co-sponsorship of a bill to repeal DADT.

Republican Sean Bielat, who earned the endorsement of the new gay conservative group, GOProud, lost in his bid to unseat longtime Democratic gay Congressman Barney Frank. Bielat is against repealing DADT and supports “traditional marriage.”

In the Senate, the LGBT losses include longtime civil rights supporter Russ Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin, who was beaten by Republican newcomer Ron Johnson. Feingold was one of only 14 senators who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996. Johnson, like Feingold, supports repeal of DADT but only if the military approves it. Johnson opposes marriage equality for same-sex couples. Pro-gay Democrat Alex Giannoulias lost in his bid for the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois to Congressman Mark Kirk.

During his time in the House, Kirk earned relatively strong scores from HRC, but last June he voted against repeal of DADT. Following numerous reports by bloggers that Kirk is a closeted gay man, a local television reporter asked him why the bloggers “keep saying that.” Kirk, who has said publicly he is not gay, said he thinks it’s because he’s divorced.

Meanwhile, both Democrat Kendrick Meeks and Independent Charlie Crist failed to win a Senate seat in Florida. That, instead, will be held by Republican Mark Rubio, who opposes repeal of DADT.

On the brighter side, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid beat out Tea Party Republican Sharron Angle. Reid was supportive of LGBT civil rights; Angle is not. California Sen. Barbara Boxer, a longtime LGBT supportive Democrat and one of the 14 DOMA opponents, eld onto her seat, defeating less supportive Republican Carly Fiorina. And pro-gay Democrat Chris Coons, endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, easily defeated Republican gadfly Christine O’Donnell. Coons has said he will “continue fighting for LGBT issues,” including marriage equality, repeal of DADT and the Defense of Marriage Act, and passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

It is still unclear who has won the Senate races in Colorado and Washington State. In Colorado, incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet is in a very tight race against Republican Ken Buck, who has implied that homosexuality is akin to alcoholism. And in Washington, incumbent pro-gay Democrat Patty Murray was clinging to a thin lead over Republican challenger Dino Rossi, who opposes marriage equality and domestic partnerships.

—  John Wright

Cicilline becomes 4th gay member of Congress

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund is reporting that Providence Mayor David Cicilline has won his race for Congress in Rhode Island.

“Mayor Cicilline will be a strong advocate for all Rhode Islanders, but he will also be an authentic voice for the millions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans who long for the day when we will be treated equally under law,” said Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Victory Fund. “We are enormously proud of him and grateful to Rhode Island voters.”

Cicilline will join openly gay Reps. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Jared Polis of Colorado, all Democrats.

—  John Wright

Should health officials ask about orientation?

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin

… And am I really agreeing with Texas Republican Congressman Joe Barton?

Openly gay Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin introduced a bill in the House Energy and Commerce committee that would require federal health officials to ask patients their sexual orientation and gender identity. And there’s more wrong with this post than the fact that I’m sort of agreeing with Joe Barton — I also picked up the article about Baldwin’s bill from Fox News.

Baldwin thinks the requirement would help illustrate the disparity in health care that gays and lesbians receive compared to the general population.

Barton thinks it’s an invasion of privacy and that young people might not even know what the question means.

I think it will scare the hell out of some gays and lesbians who are afraid of being outed to their families and employers.

Baldwin argues that refusal to answer would never be a barrier to health care.

While I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m straight, others are more circumspect and I respect that.

What do you think?

—  David Taffet

Baldwin named as BTD keynote speaker

First open lesbian member of Congress will appear at the Nov. 6 fundraising event for HRC

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor  nash@dallasvoice.com

Rep. Tammy Baldwin
Rep. Tammy Baldwin

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.

—  Michael Stephens

A brand new Technicolor life

Country singer Chely Wright, announced this week as BTD’s 2010 Media Award winner, says coming out freed her

RELATED STORY: Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin named keynote speaker

Rich Lopez  |  Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

Chely Wright
Chely Wright

“Dallas has been a great market for me,” says Chely Wright.

Truer words might have never been spoken.

The country music star spoke highly of the city when referring to her past concerts here, but she’ll be heading to Dallas this year for a different reason — one that will reinforce her confidence in this city.

Officials with the Black Tie Dinner this week announced that Wright has been chosen to receive the 2010 Media Award during the annual fundraising gala set for Nov. 6.

They also announced that U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the openly lesbian Democrat from Wisconsin, will be the keynote speaker at the dinner.

When Wright came out of the closet in May with her biography, “Like Me,”  the media storm hit full force. She was touted as the first modern country singer to come out of thecloset, and her life story landed her on the cover of People magazine and Oprah.

As the recipient of the Black Tie Media Award, Wright sees it as a step in her reasoning to come out.

“This is noteworthy to be receiving this incredible honor,” she said. “I find it really interesting that this one thing I tried so hard to hide has really set me free. I’ve not only found this gay community but also activist, advocate and civil-minded communities. These are incredible people to be applauded.”

But not only was she setting herself free by coming out, Wright knew that since she was such a public figure, her coming out would facilitate dialogue and education.

Her announcement eclipsed her current album, “Lifted Off the Ground,” and even her career for the past 15 years. But she said she was prepared for that, because it was bigger than just a CD.

“The specific reason I did this in such a grand, comprehensive way was because I was aware this would be discussed,” she said. “As celebrities, we must be aware of our public capital in the community, and there had never been a commercial country artist who acknowledged being gay.

“That’s why I wrote a book, knowing that it was incumbent upon me to do so,” she said.

Along with all that attention came the backlash from both her audiences and the country music industry — no surprise considering it comprises a largely conservative demographic.

Wright said she knew there would be a negative reaction that could possibly put her into “Dixie Chicks vs. Texas” territory. But, she said, the good has outweighed the bad so far.

“I’m aware there are negative comments. No matter what you do, people will hate. On my social networks, we don’t leave them out unless they are overly caustic. We allow that dialogue to happen.

“But I think some of my fans never knew a gay person and thought they were all deviants,” she added. “They see this isn’t the case. Those people are the moveable middle.”

Wright mentions she even received support locally, saying KSCS on-air personality Chris Huff reached out to her after she came out.

To her, that was a step many people in the country music industry are either reluctant to take, or maybe do so quietly.

“Just judging from everything she said and her experiences and the emotions she fought, I think it was a really strong thing that she did,” Huff said. “I can’t imagine what she must’ve gone through the years leading up to that.”

Huff did what, according to Wright, not many have done in her industry. People have reached out to her, but only privately. She said public declarations of support by those in country music are hard to come by.

“Huff was one of the first to e-mail me after coming out.  The industry has a lot of really progressive people, but there are a lot of folks who just reach out privately. All of country music is not homophobic, but people don’t feel like that they can say ‘I’m behind you.’”

So instead, Wright is focusing on the positive support, which she has received from other LGBT celebrities, like Rosie O’Donnell and Lance Bass, and from the fans still coming to get her autograph. She’s even relishing the Prop 8 decision from her West Hollywood home.

But ultimately, she says, she feels simply free.

“Imagine a tiny secret being a big one and have it chasing you around, and you’re afraid. Then, it’s gone. It feels like I’ve retired an 80-hour-a-week job at a factory. There is so much emotional free space.

“I think my life felt like black and white before and now it’s in Technicolor.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 6, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

New report on challenges faced by LGBT senior citizens

Rich Lopez forwarded this information to me, because when it’s about old people, he thinks of me. Thanks Rich.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin
Rep. Tammy Baldwin

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Center for American Progress Action Fund and Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) will discuss new legislation and a new report, “Improving the Lives of LGBT Older Adults” at a meeting on April 28 at noon in Washington.

The report addresses the unique challenges faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender elders in the United States. The study was done by Services and Advocacy for LGBT Elders (SAGE) and the Movement Advancement Project (MAP).

Congresswoman Baldwin will also discuss legislation to help address these disparities, while experts in the field will share the latest research and policy analysis.

Aging lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender baby boomers are the first generation of LGBT people who have openly lived LGBT lives in large numbers.

While most Americans face challenges as they age, LGBT elders have the added burden of a lifetime of stigma; familial relationships that lack recognition under the law; and unequal treatment under laws, programs, and services designed to support and protect older Americans.

The lack of financial security, good health and health care, and social and community support is a fearful reality for a disproportionate number of LGBT older adults.

—  David Taffet