By Ryan M. Leach
Springtime in Houston is rife with opportunities to support worthy causes. But with so many galas, luncheons, campaigns, and cocktail receptions, it is easy to get lost in the shuffle. Since 2010, one event has been able to rise above the rest—a unique celebration of leadership within one of the most politically active communities in Houston. This event is, of course, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund Champagne Brunch.
The 2016 brunch will take its sixth annual victory lap at the Corinthian in downtown Houston on Sunday, April 17. The crowd, comprised of political Houston’s top movers and shakers, will again don their best pastels and gather to raise funds to help elect openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people to office.
And Houston has quite a bit to boast about. Aside from helping to elect former mayor Annise Parker to citywide office nine times, the Victory Fund has also given support to council members Sue Lovell, Mike Laster, and Robert Gallegos. (The latter two are currently serving at City Hall.) But most notably, the Victory Fund helps elect LGBT officials nationwide. The organization was integral to electing the first openly lesbian U.S. senator from Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin. A major theme animating Victory Fund campaigns is that by having LGBT-elected officials at the table, it helps keep anti-LGBT civil-rights legislation off of the menu.
“The event has been hugely successful every year. We’ve maxed out our venues and increased the amount of dollars raised for LGBT candidates again and again,” says event co-chair Tammi Wallace.
The Victory in Houston team has made an effort to open up the event to everyone. “In 2015, we had a sponsor underwrite seats for LGBT seniors, which was a first. We have decided to incorporate that annually, along with seats for LGBT youth leaders,” she says.
Returning to co-chair with Wallace is another local Victory Fund board member, Ryan Lindsay. Under their leadership, in 2015, the Mayor Annise Parker Award was introduced to honor community leaders who have contributed significantly to the political advancement of Houston’s LGBT community. Past honorees were Bruce Smith and the late Tony Carroll. This year it is being presented to attorneys Debbie Hunt and her wife, the late Connie Moore.
About the honorees, Lindsay says, “At our first meeting of the year Tammi suggested Debbie and Connie, and mentioned Connie’s difficult battle with cancer. We got news that Connie passed away the next day. The decision to give the award to Debbie and Connie was unanimous. The legal team of Moore & Hunt has broken down massive barriers in Texas to successfully form and protect LGBT families. Before marriage equality was even on the horizon, they navigated our laws, strategized venues, and made it possible to provide security for gay parents.”
Wallace agrees, “We can count ourselves incredibly fortunate as a community that Connie and Debbie have been such a vital part of our advancement. You can read the hundreds of Facebook messages when Connie passed, reflecting the appreciation and honor for both her and Debbie—especially from the hundreds and hundreds of LGBT families that they have helped over the years.”
“[Connie] would probably say that there are many others who have done so much more for the community, and deserve this kind of recognition for their work,” Debbie says about her wife’s legacy that will be honored in April. “Connie really enjoyed what she did for our clients in championing the cause for LGBT family rights, but she never thought it was anything extraordinary. It’s just what she did—it’s what we both do.”
The event also features speakers from around the country who have benefitted from the support of the Victory Fund. This year’s speakers are City Council Member LaWana Mayfield from Charlotte, North Carolina, and State Representative David Richardson from Florida. Both Mayfield and Richardson will offer up their inspiring stories of victory, in hopes of perhaps opening the wallets of brunch-goers hungry for another LGBT election victory.
Of course, LGBT Houstonians are hungrier than ever for a win after the terrible defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance in November—a loss that reinforced the importance of the annual brunch and the mission of the Victory Fund. This event focuses on looking forward and making sure that LGBT people are represented at all levels of government, and on building momentum to broaden equality for Houstonians, Texans, and people throughout the country.
This year’s honorary event chair is Travis Torrence, who is with Shell. He will join Lindsay, Wallace, and the rest of the Victory Fund board to raise a toast to celebrate past victories and those yet to come.
This event traditionally sells out, but all are welcome to attend and learn more about getting involved—not only with the brunch, but with all of the organization’s other activities that further its mission. For brunch ticket information, you can search online at victoryfund.org.
What: The 6th annual Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund Houston Champagne Brunch
When: Sunday, April 17, 11 a.m.
Where: The Corinthian, 202 Fannin
Ryan M. Leach is a community activist who is also a former board member of the Victory Fund. He is dedicated to the social and political advancement of the LGBT community. Email him at [email protected]