New event benefits Equality Texas
JAMES RUSSELL | Contributing Writer
A year ago, Steve Atkinson of Dallas, along with other members of the newly-formed Dallas steering committee for Equality Texas, wanted a fresh way to promote the statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group.
That idea birthed the upcoming Valentine’s Day-themed event, Love Equality, taking place Saturday, Feb. 10.
“It’s a big, fun party,” Atkinson explained, “and a celebration of our community and relationships.”
It is also, to be clear, a fundraiser. In fact, Atkinson and event co-chair Wesley Bailey want Love Equality to become an annual fundraiser. Think Black Tie Dinner, the annual benefit for the Human Rights Campaign, but more laidback — at least for now.
Hosting the event is just one of the tasks of the local steering committee of roughly 25 members.
The Dallas group is one of four active Equality Texas steering committees in the state. According to Collin Acock, the organization’s chief development officer, other committees are active in Amarillo, Austin and Houston. And, he added, “Our board members are starting steering committees in Brownsville, Corpus Christi, El Paso, Laredo and San Antonio.”
Each steering committee is tasked with raising awareness of the organization in their respective communities through events like Love Equality. The Dallas committee includes a mix of veteran activists like Atkinson as well as newer ones like Bailey, much to Atkinson’s delight.
“They bring different spheres of influence,” Atkinson said of the board members who are a bit newer to activism, as well their own skill sets.
Bailey, a Dallas real estate lawyer who Atkinson called “fantastic,” got involved through a colleague. After Donald Trump’s election in 2016, Bailey was shocked and concerned, and he suddenly felt the urge to get involved despite never having served in a leadership role with a politically active group like Equality Texas.
Bailey did not just join the committee, he also willingly co-chairs the events committee, another first for him.
“I’m not an events person. But I’m anal and organized. I can stay within a budget,” he explained.
Atkinson, on the other hand, has been involved with Equality Texas throughout its various iterations, going back as far the 1990s when it was called the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas.
He served a total of nine years on the organization’s board, two of those as chair.
When he stepped down from that board, Atkinson got involved with the Human Rights Campaign, serving in various board leadership roles. But he could not stay away from Equality Texas for long. He currently serves as vice chair of the Equality Texas Foundation, the organization’s non-profit arm in charge of education and outreach, not legislative lobbying.
“I’m really excited to be back. The group is close to my heart,” Atkinson said. “I’m excited about the future of the organization.”
Equality Texas Chief Executive Officer Chuck Smith noted they hired their first full-time Dallas staff member, Education and Resource Coordinator Rachel Gonzales. With her daughter Libby, who is trans, Gonzales may most recently be known as one of the many faces of opposition to the so-called bathroom bill restricting bathroom access for transgender individuals last session.
The bill died, but the organization hired Gonzales, whose background involves developing awareness of various communities.
“We are excited about our board presence in Dallas and what it means for Equality Texas. With Love Equality, we have grown to the point of holding an annual event that we hope will activate our supporters and engage new champions for LGBTQ dignity, respect, and rights in Texas,” Smith said.
Atkinson is thrilled about the organization’s growth even beyond Dallas. “Equality Texas is the primary organization deserving the support of every LGBT person in the state. They are on the frontlines and on our home turf, constantly impacting our lives,” he said.
The Dallas steering committee meets at 6:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month in the Interfaith Peace Chapel at Cathedral of Hope, 5910 Cedar Springs Road. For more information e-mail [email protected].