Tammye Nash | Managing Editor
On Saturday night, LGBT Texans and their allies will gather at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel for the 36th annual Black Tie Dinner, one of the largest black-tie events in the country benefitting LGBT organizations and programs. And while the event has been around since 1982, board co-chairs David Gifford-Robinson and
Nate Robbins said this week that guests this year can expect some exciting new additions as well as favorite old traditions.
“From the moment the guests enter on Saturday, and throughout the evening, we have a number of new experiences and surprises for them,” Gifford-Robinson said.
One of the biggest changes this year, the co-chairs said, is the check-in process guests will go through when they arrive.
In the past, table captains have received all the tickets for guests sitting at their tables and were themselves responsible for doling those tickets out. But this year, no tickets have been distributed in advance. Instead, each guest will check in individually and be issued a pass at that time.
Part of the reason for the change, the co-chairs said, is to help improve security at the event. But the new check-in process will also give Black Tie board members and volunteers and chance to interact more with each and every guest.
“It will be a quick process,” said Robbins. “Each guest will go through the ticket line. We will verify their identity, give them their pass and they’ll be off to one of our three welcome receptions.”
Guests will also have a chance to take advantage of a “special photo opp” during the check-in process, they added.
Robbins noted, “This allows every single guest to have direct communication with us. Now we can make sure every single guest gets the best Black Tie experience possible.”
The three receptions, Gifford-Robinson explained, are based on sponsorship levels. The general reception is open to all Black Tie attendees. Then there is the VIP reception, and for those higher up in the sponsorship levels, the speaker’s reception.
But whichever reception guests attend, Gifford-Robinson said, they will have fun. “Every reception will have great music and open bars. It just gets a bit more intimate with the higher levels of sponsorships,” he said.
Doors open at 6:30 p.m., giving attendees a chance to check out the silent auction items on display in the lobby outside the ballroom before the program begins a few minutes prior to 7 p.m.
The silent auction, Robbins noted, will have “a wide variety of items, from fine arts to furniture,” and there will also be a “premiere auction” as part of the silent auction, featuring items that are a bit higher in value.
Then, inside the ballroom in the middle of the program, auctioneer Robbie Gordy with Christie’s will conduct the luxury auction, featuring a number of destinations including Costa Rica and Puerta Vallarta, a seven-day Mediterranean cruise, a guitar autographed especially for Black Tie by Taylor Swift and, what Gifford-Robinson called “once in a lifetime opportunity,” two tickets to Elton John’s Oscar night party in 2018.
Robbins said this year’s dinner will be “one of the most content- and story-rich dinners we’ve had in awhile now. We have four brand new beneficiaries [see story, Page 10], and they will be bringing in all new people, people who have never been to Black Tie before and who will have something meaningful to say this year, and in the years to come.”
The special guest speaker this year will be Eric Fanning, the first openly-gay secretary of the U.S. Army, and Robbins pointed out that he would be “speaking to us on Veterans Day. I think that’s a pretty special way to honor all veterans and especially to honor our LGBTQ veterans.”
Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally will be on hand to accept the Ally for Equality Award, and the Rev. Eric Folkerth, pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, will receive the Kuchling Humanitarian Award. And Judith-Kasen Windsor will accept the Elizabeth Birch Award.
The co-chairs said that the Black Tie board will also be presenting a brand new award: The Richard Weaver Volunteer Excellence Award, named after longtime activist and Black Tie volunteer Richard “Dick” Weaver. But they said that the name of the new award’s inaugural recipient is one of the many special secrets that won’t be unveiled until Saturday night.
Actor/singer Grace Stockdale, from the touring cast of the Broadway musical Waitress and Tyler Glenn, lead singers of the band Neon Trees will be performing.
The theme for this year’s Black Tie Dinner is “Together,” and Gifford-Robinson said that the theme represents “one of the key messages, the thing I love most about this organization and what we are doing with the LGBT community and the broader community here in North Texas. We are bringing together an amazing group of speakers and talent and family and friends and allies to celebrate.”
Robbins stressed that “having four new beneficiaries who will be bringing in a whole new audience to experience this all for the first time makes this year even more special.”
His co-chair concluded, “Black Tie is continuing to evolve. It’s not the same dinner it was 36 years ago, and I think that is a good thing. We are growing with the needs of the community.”