Black Tie Dinner check distribution party

 

—  David Taffet

Black Tie Dinner hands out $1.142M

Lemons stepping up as 2012-13 co-chair; Duncan joins staff as development director

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COMMEMORATIVE GIFT | BTD Co-chair Chris Kouvelis shows off the plate presented to each beneficiary along with a check. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Officials with the 2011 Black Tie Dinner on Thursday night, Dec. 15, distributed a total of $1.142 million to 17 local beneficiary organizations and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

Although the overall total was down a bit from 2010’s total of $1.15 million, some local beneficiaries received higher individual amounts this year since the number of local beneficiaries dropped from 18 to 17 after AIDS Services of Rural Texas closed its doors in late spring.

As is traditional, half the total proceeds this year — or $571,000 — went to the Human Rights Campaign Fund. Resource Center Dallas was the local organization receiving the largest sum — $63,868.

RCD also received the largest donation to a local beneficiary last year, but that total, at $48,504, was significantly lower than this year.

The percentage of the total proceeds that each local beneficiary receives from Black Tie Dinner each year is determined by a formula based on how many tables and how many raffle tickets each organization sells for the dinner, how many volunteer hours each organization contributes to the dinner and other factors.

Chris Kouvelis, 2011-12 BTD co-chair, said in a statement released Thursday that he and other board members were pleased with the amount given to beneficiaries.

“It’s a thrill and an honor for Black Tie Dinner to be able to distribute these funds,” Kouvelis said. “It is with distribution that the reason for all the hard work done by this wonderful board is realized.”

Kouvelis served his first year as co-chair with Nan Arnold, who stepped down from the post during the check distribution event after two years as co-chair.

Arnold told Dallas Voice this week she was proud to know that during the last two years,“ we were able to increase distribution [to beneficiaries] substantially from the previous three to four years. Being able to give more to our beneficiaries is always a wonderful thing, and of course, that is our No. 1 mission.”

She said she is also very proud of how successful the 2011 dinner was.

“We really changed a lot of things this year. We had a great lineup and we sold out by August,” Arnold said. “We’ve heard a lot of good remarks about the dinner this year, and of course, we always love hearing good things.”

Black Tie officials on Thursday introduced Mitzi Lemons as co-chair for the 2012 and 2013 dinners, and they introduced Margaret Byrne Duncan as the new development director for the dinner.

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PASSING THE TORCH | Outgoing Co-chair Nan Arnold, left, and incoming Co-chair Mitzi Lemons at the Black Tie Dinner check presentation party at the Dallas Museum of Art on Thursday, Dec. 15. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

“I am leaving the board in excellent hands,” Arnold said of Lemons’ selection as the new co-chair. “Chris has been a great co-chair partner and is more than ready to take the reins [as senior co-chair]. And Mitzi has shown remarkable leadership as chair of our business operations committee.”

Arnold continued, “She [Lemons] is the first person to have the opportunity to have served [during the last year] as co-chair elect, so Chris and I have been able to work with her and mentor her all year. There is no doubt they are a terrific team and will lead the board to great things.”

Arnold steps down as co-chair after eight years on the BTD board, saying it has been “an honor and a privilege” to serve.

“I am just humbled to be a small part of a really great community in Dallas and I appreciate the opportunity to do my part to help in any way I can,” she said.

Looking back on her eight years on the board, Arnold said there have been many special moments and memories, but one in particular that stands out in her mind was being able to hand over a “substantial” donation to first-time beneficiary Home for the Holidays following the 2010 dinner.

“They were so excited; there were tears and yells of joy and appreciation,” Arnold recalled. “There were hugs all around. It was wonderful.”

Home for the Holidays, a nonprofit that helps people with HIV/AIDS travel home to be with family, received $24,375 in 2010, an amount that Home for the Holidays President Rodd Gray said earlier this year was a fortune for an organization in which board members often used their own credit cards and bank accounts to cover expenses until they could raise enough money to get reimbursed.

Home for the Holidays did not apply to be a Black Tie beneficiary this year, Gray said, explaining that the 2010 donation was enough to tide them over for some time. “We don’t need the money right now, and we didn’t want to possibly take away money from some other organization that needs it more,” Gray explained.

For Lemons, stepping into the role of Black Tie Dinner co-chair is an exciting opportunity.

“It is an honor I never dreamed I would have the privilege of experiencing, and I know it will be a time in my life that I will always cherish,” Lemons said. “To lead such a remarkable organization that impacts the LGBT community in the way that we do is almost daunting, to say the least. But I know I have the support of my co-chair [Kouvelis] and a truly amazing board and advisory board.”

Lemons has been a Black Tie board member for four years, and worked as a volunteer with the organization for two years before joining the board. She said that she was on the board at Celebration Community Church in Fort Worth when the church first applied and was selected as a Black Tie beneficiary.

When the church was selected as a beneficiary, Lemons said, “I began volunteering with Black Tie and became more and more interested in how the organization works and how it helps so many people.”

Lemons said that during her first year as Black Tie co-chair, she intends to “continue our efforts to educate not only the LGBT community about the mission of Black Tie Dinnner to help our beneficiaries, but also to educate the general public and our sponsors. There are still many opportunities in the North Texas area, and we will work hard to expand our reach.

“Although the 2011 dinner will be a hard act to follow, we are already in full swing working on an amazing 2012 dinner,” she added.

Lemons has been in law firm management for more than 25 years and currently works as a law firm administrator. She and her partner, Dr. Sarah Hardy, have been together for 15 years, and Lemons said Hardy is also “very much a part of Black Tie with her never-ending support of my role on the board and her belief in the Black Tie mission.

“The many hours of work we do as board members to produce the dinner each year would never happen without the devotion of our spouses to what we believe in,” Lemons said.
Duncan said this week that the transition to her new position as development director for Black Tie Dinner has already begun, even though she does not officially take over the position until Jan. 1.

“I am honored to be part of the nation’s largest, most successful single-event LGBT fundraiser,” Duncan said. “That success would not be possible without our extremely dedicated volunteer board of directors.”

Duncan said she became familiar with Black Tie while working for five years with AIDS Arms, one of the dinner’s beneficiary organizations. Because of that, Duncan said, “I have firsthand knowledge of how important Black Tie’s funding is to the LGBT-supportive organizations serving North Texas.”

Duncan said her goal for 2012 is to continue building on the organization’s current success and to find ways to increase the donations Black Tie gives back to its beneficiaries.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Lucky ticket


AND THE WINNER IS  |  Paul Van de Vyver, who bought the winning ticket for the two-door 2012 C250 Mercedes Coupe at this year’s Black Tie Dinner, picks up his new car on Friday, Nov. 18 at Park Place Mercedes on Lemmon Avenue. Pictured, from left, are Black Tie Dinner board member Kevin Terrell, Van de Vyver and BTD Co-Chair Chris Kouvelis. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 25, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

‘We must make noise’

Speaking at Black Tie Dinner, deaf activist and actress Marlee Matlin urges LGBT community to never give up the fight

CLICK HERE TO VIEW PHOTOS FROM BLACK TIE

CLICK HERE TO WATCH VIDEO FROM BLACK TIE

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Recalling the barriers she has faced as a hearing-impaired person in a hearing world, and especially as a hearing-impaired actress in the entertainment industry, Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin told the capacity audience at the 30th annual Black Tie Dinner last weekend that “we must make noise as often as we can” to win the fight for equality.

Matlin recalled how she overcame the barrier of her hearing impairment as a child, and later while working in the entertainment industry, with the support of her family and friends.

When critic Rex Reed said that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science members voted Matlin best actress winner in 1986 for her role in Children of a Lesser God, they only did so out of pity, Matlin said it was her old friend Henry Winkler who “reminded me that I could be anything I wanted to be.”

And when she was attacked by a “small but vocal” group of deaf activists for speaking rather than signing the names of the nominees when she presented the 1988 best actor Oscar, Matlin said it was Whoopi Goldberg who told her, “Girl, it’s time to do what’s right for you.”

It was the guidance and friendship she got from them and from other friends and family that helped her defy the critics and overcome the obstacles in her path.

“No one should ever take no for an answer,” Matlin told the Black Tie audience, speaking in sign translated. “We can break down the barriers of prejudice if we work together. Every day, I vow never to give up the fight.”

While tying the fight for LGBT equality to her own battle to overcome prejudice against the deaf and others with physical challenges, Matlin also explained her own personal tie to the LGBT community, other than her role as a lesbian on The L Word: One of her brothers is gay.

When her brother told their parents he is gay, Matlin said, “They said that was OK, as long as he settled down and married a doctor.” Today, she added, her brother and his partner, a doctor, have been together for 26 years.

“We have to make noise,” Matlin continued. “We must all make noise on Twitter, on Facebook. We must make noise to our elected officials, as often as we can. We must fight every day until hate and discrimination are eliminated.”

And, she said, those fighting for equality can’t allow their opponents to set up barriers to deflect them from their goals.

“The only barriers out there for all of us are all up here, in our minds,” she said. “There are those who try to handicap our minds with hate, with fear and prejudice. We cannot let them do that.”

Matlin capped off an evening that included a speech by Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese and entertainment by emcee Caroline Rhea and singer Taylor Dayne.

This was the first year the Black Tie committee has brought in someone to emcee the dinner, and Rhea kept the audience laughing throughout the night. The comedian also helped pump up proceeds for the event by donating two tickets to attend Hugh Jackman’s one-man show now on Broadway with Rhea, and then meet Jackman after the show. Two individuals paid $12,500 each for the tickets.

Dayne and a single back-up singer, performing a mixture of her new songs and her iconic hits, had the audience dancing in the aisles and crowding the edge of the stage, raising their smart phones to take photos and shoot video as Dayne danced and sang.

Also during the evening, gay veteran Eric Alva, a former Marine who was the first U.S. serviceman injured in the invasion of Iraq, was presented with the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award for his work in pushing for repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, gay actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson of ABC’s Modern Family was presented with the Media Award, and local advocates Chet Flake and his partner, the late Bud Knight, were presented with the Raymond Kuchling  Humanitarian Award.

In accepting the award, Alva said that although in the days immediately following his injury — he lost a leg when he stepped on a land mine — he wished he would have died, he has since found renewed purpose in advocating for LGBT equality, in the military and elsewhere.

“I just could not resolve the sacrifice I made with the way my country treated me like a second-class citizen,” Alva said. “I’ll stay in the fight with you, and we will stay in the fight together until it’s finished.”

In accepting the Kuchling Award, Flake explained that he and Knight had never consciously decided to volunteer in the LGBT community — “It just happened. And one thing just led to another. When we saw something that needed to be done, we just tried to do it.”

Flake also applauded the progress the LGBT community has made. “Dallas has evolved tremendously,” he said. “Our community has become more respected, because people have become more educated.”

Black Tie Co-chairs Nan Arnold and Chris Kouvelis noted during the dinner on Saturday that tickets to the events had been sold out since August, the earliest sell-out in the event’s history.

Arnold said this week that final totals have not yet been determined. She said checks will be distributed to Black Tie’s 17 local beneficiaries and to the Human Rights Campaign during a reception Dec. 15 at the Dallas Museum of Art.

—  Kevin Thomas

PwC’s LGBT employees coming to Dallas for summit

Out Professional Employee Network to discuss best practices and personal branding at two-day summit in Dallas

Arruda.William

William Arruda

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Human Rights Campaign sponsor PricewaterhouseCoopers is holding a two-day diversity summit for members of its LGBT resource group at the Joule Hotel in Downtown Dallas beginning Friday, Nov. 11, in conjunction with Black Tie Dinner set for Saturday night.

The company is headquartered in London, with offices worldwide, including Dallas.

Mark Niehaus, partner chair for the National GLBT Partner Advisory Board, explained that the resource group holds “periodic gatherings of our GLBT members from throughout the country,” and that this year, “We decided to connect it to a national event” (the Black Tie Dinner).

Jennifer Allyn, a managing director in the PwC office of diversity, said that normally a business meeting wouldn’t be held into Saturday. But, she said, the Black Tie Dinner was a good reason for people to stay through the weekend. She said the meeting will include people who are out, visible and successful.

“The group includes some of our highest-performing GLBT professionals,” she said.

Also among the speakers is personal branding expert William Arruda.

He begins the event on Friday morning by discussing how diversity can be what differentiates a person and how to use that to accelerate a career path.

“How do you put yourself out there?” Allyn said, explaining what Arruda will discuss. “Are you being thoughtful about your reputation?”

She said Arruda will discuss managing one’s reputation to succeed at the highest levels.

When he worked for KPMG, Arruda was closeted and spent about 20 percent of his time covering up who he was, she explained. But at PwC, it’s important to be out at work, especially in jobs dealing with clients and building trust.

“Integrity is important,” Allyn said. “When you’re hiding, you come off guarded. To build relationships, you have to build trust.”

She said that building trust is difficult with someone who is closeted because it becomes apparent that person is always hiding something.

In a business environment, people are always coming out. Members of PwC’s Out Professional Employee Network (OPEN) will share best practices.

“A lot of our focus is based on how we fit in the organization,” Niehaus said.

He said the group focuses on strengths and leveraging those individual personal traits.

“What makes you different is what’s important,” he said. “It connects you with clients and makes you succeed. We don’t want to lose what’s unique about each individual.”

The meeting will focus on other issues relating to personal branding and career development as well.

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese will speak along with Point Foundation President Jorge Valencia.

While Solmonese will discuss political initiatives, Allyn said the group is especially anxious to hear from Valencia because “PwC has a big commitment to education.”

Other speakers include New York State Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights Alphonso David, who was involved in the fight to pass same-sex marriage in New York, and LGBT retention and advancement consultant Jennifer Brown, who will discuss career development tailored to an LGBT professionals.

“One of our initiatives is energizing allies,” Allyn said.

In conjunction with that, OPEN published I Am Open. The book complied interviews with 18 gay and straight people at PwC who have built strong working relationships with each other.

In a professional setting, the book suggests inclusive language such as asking if someone is in a relationship rather than if they’re married or invite team members to bring a guest rather than something more specific.

PwC is the first of the Big 4 accounting firms to have an LGBT Partner Advisory Board made up of openly gay partners and managing directors in the company. Many of those partners, including Niehaus, will be at the conference in Dallas.

“We want everyone to leave inspired,” Allyn said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 11, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Lynch, pinned

Jane Lynch has elevated the calm, withering quip to high art. Whether plying her craft in Christopher Guest mockumentaries like Best in Show or A Mighty Wind, or feature films like Talladega Nights and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, she’s become one of the most iconic comic actresses working today.

She’s also been one of the most visible gay celebrities, especially since her Emmy winning role on the hit series Glee, where she plays homophobic right wing high school coach Sue Sylvester. In September, her memoir Happy Accidents moved her influence to the written page.

Lynch, in town this week at a benefit for the Black Tie Dinner, she sat down to discuss Sue, her comic sensibility and her approach to activism.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

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Jane Lynch

Dallas Voice: You hosted the Emmys two months ago and you were a nominee. How did you juggle those competing pressures?  Jane Lynch: I really didn’t have time to think about how I was a nominee. I was focused on the moment and I was very aware that I was only the third woman [after Angela Lansbury and Ellen DeGeneres] to host the Emmys solo, and only the second lesbian.

You’re in town promoting your new book Happy Accidents. Do you feel it’s too early to write an autobiography?  Well, it’s a memoir, not an autobiography where you write about a whole life — I’m certainly not there. A memoir is instead a book about yourself built around a theme. I kept saying to my wife, I could write 15 different books. But this is the one about suffering over my suffering.

Did you write it yourself or have help?  My wife and I wrote it together — she’s definitely the co-author. [I didn’t want to use a ghost writer because] it had to sound like me. I’m not like Susan Lucci — I have a voice people know.

How did you end up working with Dallas’ Black Tie folks?  I was in Dallas before speaking at an HRC event, and I’ll tell you: You guys are organized, enthusiastic and rich. I have been getting people from here emailing me about coming back [ever since].
You very casually refer to your wife in conversation, which I think can really change the dialogue among people oppsed to same-sex marriage.  We’re very aware of that. We aren’t activists in the [overt] political way, but we let the fact we’re living our life be the example. In red carpet, people ask me about my wife now. They don’t play games referring to wife as “life partner” or “girlfriend.”

Your big break was in the Christopher Guest film Best in Show. Did working with Guest give you your comic sensibility or did having that sensibility get you the job?  Hmmm, I’m not sure. Chris Guest says he can tell within five minutes of meeting an actor [at an audition] whether they can do his stuff, and stuff like that has been cracking me up my entire life, the whole “less is more” style of comedy.

Sue Sylvester is your breakout role. How do you approach her? She seems very unlike you.  It’s all about understanding her psychology. She lives to shock. But Sue’s a warrior. It’s why she wears that track suit: It’s her uniform. She has a lieutenant in Becky; the Cheerios are her soldiers. I think of Patton when I do her. In the Madonna episode, we took a speech right out of Patton. Everything is a fight with her and she’ll create one out of whole cloth if she needs to.

I’m reading the Steve Jobs biography, and it occurs to me: He was Sue Sylvester. He lies to himself with all those false deadlines and unreasonable expectations. Everything was a fight. If he didn’t get what he wanted, he cried. Sue would never cry, but she’s suffering in her own way. Every so often she does something tender.

I think my biggest disappointment in Mr. Shuster is he keeps taking it easy on Sue and she turns on him.  Yes, for some reason, people keep forgiving her. That’s gotta end some time.

Do know what’s up for her this season?  Everything’s very late this season. Every once in a while, [creator] Ryan [Murphy] will pop in every so often and say “We’re writing some very baroque monologues for you.” We’ll see.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Putting the final touches on Black Tie

Co-chairs hoping for banner year as fundraiser marks its 30th year

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com
With two weeks left to go before the annual Black Tie Dinner, organizers are busy putting the finishing touches on what BTD Co-chairs Nan Arnold and Chris Kouvelis said this week will be one of the most outstanding events in the dinner’s 30-year history.

“We have a particularly good line up for the dinner this year,” Arnold said. “We are absolutely thrilled to have Marlee Matlin as our keynote speaker this year. And we have an emcee — Caroline Rhea — this year for the first time. I am sure our patrons will be glad they don’t have to listen to me and Chris all night!”

Award-winning actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson of television’s Modern Family will be on hand to accept the 2011 Media Award, and singer Taylor Dayne will provide entertainment.

Gay Marine veteran Eric Alva, the first U.S. serviceman injured in the war in Iraq, will receive the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award, and partners Chet Flake and the late Bud Knight will receive the Kuchling Humanitarian Award.

Arnold noted that tables at the dinner sold out in August, “before we even announced that Marlee Matlin would be our guest speaker. We were just ecstatic when we sold out that early. I think that is the earliest date we’ve ever sold out,” Arnold said.

But the co-chairs also pointed out that there is a waiting list available for regular and VIP individual tickets that might become available at the last minute. “Anyone who still wants to buy a ticket can go online to our website, BlackTie.org, and get on the waiting list. Or if you want to talk to someone directly, email Mitzi Lemons at mlemons@blacktie.org,” Kouvelis said.

Arnold added, “We will also accept cash donations from folks who want to support the organization but can’t attend the dinner.”

“Thirty years is a huge milestone, no doubt. But we had a huge retrospective for our 25th anniversary, bringing in past board members and honorees from out of town and looking back at the history of Black Tie, and that wasn’t that long ago,” Arnold said. “So we chose to focus on having a celebration, on looking ahead to 30 more great years. That’s why we chose ‘Shine’ as our theme this year, because we want to shine a light into the future.”

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Chard nominated to education board

Openly gay SMU dean faces Senate confirmation hearing to earn spot in Obama administration

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Chard.David

David Chard

Openly gay Southern Methodist University Dean David Chard has been nominated to the National Board for Education Sciences by President Barack Obama.

If approved by the Senate, Chard will be one of 15 voting members appointed by the president. The board is the research arm of the Department of Education.

Chard is unable to comment about the position until after the confirmation hearing.

He was among three people named to the board by Obama on Oct. 19. The others are Larry V. Hedges and Hirokazu Yoshikawa.

Hedges is professor of statistics and a faculty fellow of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.  Yoshikawa is professor of education and the academic dean at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Chard has been dean of SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development since 2007. He served as director of graduate studies for the department of special education at the University of Oregon from 2003 to 2005, and as associate dean of the College of Education at the University of Oregon from 2005 to 2007.

Since arriving at SMU, Chard has become active in the LGBT community. Working with Resource Center Dallas, he created a counseling internship program that is a partnership between his school and the Oak Lawn agency.

He also spearheaded efforts to get SMU to become a Black Tie Dinner sponsor.

The Education Department position is advisory. The members consult with the director to approve priorities and guide the work of the institute.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Celebration Church kicks off capital campaign

Church campus will add space for meetings, dinners, recreational facilities, gardens, columbarium

Carol West

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Celebration Community Church in Fort Worth kicked off a $1.3 million campaign this week to build a community center that will be named for the Rev. Carol West.

West said that the church needs the additional space because the current facility is too small.

“When we get together for a dinner, we can’t all be seated,” she said.

The current fellowship hall seats about 130.

When West was hired 13 years ago, the church had a membership of 37. But that soon changed.

“We hit the ground running with programming,” West said, and the church grew rapidly.

Celebration bought the current church building, at 908 Pennsylvania Ave., from St. John’s Evangelical and Reformed Church in 2001, after St. John’s merged into a nearby United Church of Christ.

Today, more than 550 people belong to the nondenominational Celebration Church.

Pam Ibbotson, a church board member working on the capital campaign, said that $100,000 is already in the building fund and that another $250,000 needs to be raised before construction starts. She said the church members are hoping that will be within the next year.

“It’s hard to predict how long it will take,” Ibbotson said.

The balance of the construction budget will be funded through pledges.

Tom Guerin, of Jepsen Guerin Architects of Dallas, drew plans for the new building that will be attached to the fellowship hall.

After the plans for the project were drawn, the church hired Nan Faith Arnold as project manager. They met Arnold, who is co-chair of the Black Tie Dinner board of directors, through the annual fundraising event.

Arnold worked with them on another project: Members purchased a building in the same block as the church and donated it to the church. The building was renovated into Barron House, a full-time counseling center that now employs eight counselors.

Arnold served as project manager for that construction as well.

Arnold said that the new building will add 7,200 square feet of space and will be attached to the fellowship hall.

“It blends in with the existing structure and makes it more aesthetically pleasing,” Arnold said of the design for the expansion.

The main church building, built in 1950, has historic landmark status and will not be touched.

Meeting rooms, restrooms, storage and food pantry space will be added.

“There will be a wonderful lobby and a place for people who need to be dropped off,” West said.

The church has been collecting canned goods and distributing them mostly to other organizations that either have meals programs or their own pantries. Ibbotson said that often when a pallet of cans had been delivered in the past, the problem has been where to store them. The new building will solve that problem.

Another feature that will be added is a columbarium, a storage space for cremated remains. Arnold said that because those remains must be permanently stored, the church came up with a good master plan for the entire property.

She said that construction plans are still in the preliminary stage, but she expects the columbarium to begin with 40 to 80 niches for cremated remains.

Ibbotson said that they didn’t want to lose part of the community lawn, which the church uses for a number of outdoor events throughout the year. Garden and lawn space are provided in the master plan as well as additional parking.

Celebration Church has become a popular meeting place for the Fort Worth LGBT community, and Ibbotson said that several things prompted the LGBT community to meet at the church.

“When we became affiliated with Black Tie Dinner, we gained visibility in Fort Worth,” she said.

She said that West’s involvement in city matters, especially after the 2009 Rainbow Lounge raid, and her participation in police diversity training brought new recognition to the church.

The church has gained such attention in Fort Worth that Mayor Betsy Price spent the last Sunday before the election at Celebration Church, West said.

West doesn’t take personal credit for the  church’s growth and prominence.

Instead, she said, “We have a very generous congregation.”

The church has awarded 30 scholarships to area students who are not Celebration Church members. They have donated tons of food to about 50 different Fort Worth organizations that distribute food and serve meals. And they offer meeting space at no charge to LGBT groups like Fairness Fort Worth and other community organizations like Tarrant Dialysis.

And when the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the Fort Worth Police Department needed a safe place to meet with the LGBT community after the Rainbow Lounge raid, the church was the meeting place, with West on hand to offer a calming voice.

West said that when the Barron House property became available, a group of members pledged $100 a month to buy the building and paid it off in five years. She sees similar generosity from the congregation in making the current plan possible.

The church has purchased most of the property in the block. West said that when they demolished one building she described as “the crack house,” they set up bleachers for the congregation to watch. The bulldozer driver said it was the first time his work had ever received a standing ovation.

West said that the church has an active group for younger adults in their 20s and 30s. She would like to see a Fort Worth branch of Youth First Texas, and she would like to offer rehearsal space to QCinema’s live performance group.

With additional space, the church can grow to become an even stronger hub of the community, West said.

Ibbotson said it was time for the congregation to move forward with its expansion plans — “not just for the congregation, but for the community,” she said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens