HRC Houston hosts 16th annual gala.
by Megan Smith • Photos by Revital Shnaider Briseno
As a prominent and powerful voice behind the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, equal treatment in the workplace, and the victories for marriage equality in the 2012 election cycle, the Human Rights Campaign is arguably the largest civil rights force working for LGBT equality today. However, it’s not only the head-honchos at HRC’s national office in DC that are making these monumental strides, but also the dedicated local members of HRC Houston.
A fundraising arm of the national organization, HRC Houston seeks to support the fight for marriage equality in every state in which legislation or a vote is imminent. Illinois, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Minnesota, and Hawaii are the states being targeted for 2013. The local branch sends the necessary manpower and monetary assistance into these states, with volunteers traveling door-to-door and educating others on what they can do to help the marriage equality movement and raising funds through grassroots efforts along the way. Although they are currently helping in these other states, HRC Houston members never lose sight of their goal of bringing marriage equality to Texas in the near future. “All of the work we’re doing all over the nation is affecting Texas in positive ways,” says Brian Buzby, member of the HRC National Board of Governors and HRC Houston Federal Club co-chair.
Although marriage equality doesn’t seem likely for Texas quite yet, HRC Houston is still making some big efforts to make equality happen here at home. In a city with over twenty Fortune 500 companies, making sure that all employees—regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression—are given equal protection and respect is a top priority for the organization. That’s where the HRC Workplace Project steps in, fighting to eliminate discrimination at all companies, including those in Houston. The national project has already achieved great success with major companies, including Chevron. “There are a lot of Houston companies joining in on our fight, recognizing that equality is for everyone,” Buzby says. “And even though the state of Texas does not provide us with those rights, [they recognize that their] employees deserve them. At Chevron, their employees have a nondiscrimination policy, they have training about LGBT issues, they have partner benefits, and they even have transgender benefits and will help transgender employees transition.”
Big businesses aren’t the only valued members of HRC Houston’s fight for equality. Even the youngest Houstonians can help to end hate as part of HRC’s Welcoming Schools program in HISD and surrounding school districts. Although there are LGBT aspects to the program, the main goal is to teach love and acceptance and create a welcoming environment for students with all types of families. “It’s about teaching elementary school children and teachers how to
accept a diverse group of students and how not to discriminate,” Buzby explains. “[A school] might have an Asian-American child who has two white heterosexual parents, so [it’s not just about] gay parents. You’re supposed to love [people] for their differences. It’s about teaching love at an early age, rather than hate.”
Keeping this mission in mind and continuing their support for LGBT equality, HRC Houston hosts its 16th annual gala dinner, appropriately themed “Love Conquers Hate,” Saturday, April 27, at the Hilton-Americas hotel. The event—presented by BBVA Compass and co-chaired by Tiffany Tosh, Clayton Katz, and Kevin Baucom—expects to bring in over 700 guests, and for good reason. Prominent political figures including Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Mayor Annise Parker, local judges, and HISD board members are regularly present at the dinner. And this year, HRC Houston has secured the attendance of an extra-special guest—HRC’s national president, Chad Griffin.
The night, which consists of a reception, auction, dinner, and awards, is emceed by Ryan Korsgard and Mix 96.5’s Blake Hayes. These two on-air personalities expect to share the stage with some big-name and local talent. Previous galas have brought in Hollywood names like Amber Heard from The Rum Diary and Grey’s Anatomy’s Kate Walsh. Both corporate sponsor Tim Surratt at Greenwood King Properties and an unconfirmed political figure will also be honored at the event for their amazing work and commitment to the LGBT community.
Besides the evening’s silent auction, which includes big-ticket items like artwork valued at more than $10,000 donated by a private collector, the gala promises a diverse program that places special importance on the straight allies of the LGBT community. “We have gone as far as we can go on our own, and now we need to form partners outside of the LGBT community,” Buzby emphasizes. He explains that the organization has seen overwhelming support from straight women, who serve as some of the community’s strongest allies. This vital relationship is highlighted in the gala’s program, which includes straight mothers speaking out on behalf of their LGBT-identified children. “Some of [these mothers are] saying ‘We might not have always agreed at the beginning of this, but I love my children for who they are and what they are, and I support them,’” Buzby says.
With the nation’s eye on immigration reform, the program also focuses on the intersection between Hispanic and LGBT identity and the tremendous need for protection of LGBT immigrants. The connections between race, gender, and sexual orientation cannot be ignored, and in a city that is heavily affected by immigration, HRC Houston seeks to shine a light on this issue. “We met with a lot of the representatives from our area,” Buzby says, “and we told them that immigration is important to us here in Houston and that we expect them to sign on to the [push for LGBT-inclusive immigration reform].”
There are three different levels of sponsorship for admission to this year’s gala, with reduced prices for Federal Club members and major donors. (Federal club members are local lobbying partners that donate $100 per month to help with the fight for marriage equality, while major donors give $5,000 or more per year to support HRC’s foundation work, such as the Workplace Project and Welcoming Schools.) The lowest level of sponsorship, the general admission package, provides guests with admission and dinner with wine. If you want a little more out of your gala experience, the VIP package includes complimentary valet, priority check-in, a VIP section with open bar during the reception and after-party, and priority auction checkout. Want even more? The top-level elite seating package provides second-row seating for the best view in the house, in addition to the perks of the VIP level.
Interested in attending the event, but afraid you can’t afford the gala’s ticket price? Buzby encourages those with slightly strained pocketbooks to volunteer for the event—an especially great networking opportunity for younger LGBT-identified people and straight allies to get involved with HRC Houston and its work. The event needs over one hundred volunteers each year.
General admission (for non-Federal Club members and non-major donors) starts at $200 per guest. Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.hrc.org/events/entry/hrc-houston-gala-dinner. To volunteer at the event, please contact Linda Lopez at [email protected] HRC Houston is also still accepting donations for the gala’s auction. To donate, please contact Carlos Arcos at [email protected]
Megan Smith is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.