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Alexandra Billings Keynotes this Year’s HRC Houston Dinner

Event co-chair Heather Taylor previews the April 9 event.

Alexandra Billings (photo by David Mullen)

This year’s April 9 Human Rights Campaign (HRC) dinner is important for many reasons, but event co-chair Heather Taylor notes two in particular: “We celebrate our commitment as a community and our tenacity to keep raising critical funds and awareness for all humans.” 

Taylor, who owns and operates the Mad Hat Maven creative agency, has been putting together HRC’s 2022 dinner by working alongside event co-chair Rey Ocanas, the executive VP and director of community development banking at PNC.   

“There’s No Stopping Us Now” is the theme of this year’s dinner at the Marriott Marquis Downtown. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. with a welcome reception and continues with a seated dinner, a live auction, and a program featuring political speakers including Mayor Sylvester Turner, awards, celebrity guest keynote speaker Alexandra Billings, and an after-party.

Billings, a 59-year-old transgender actress, is known for being the second trans woman to play a trans character on TV, and for her roles in Transparent, Grey’s Anatomy, and The Conners. She is also recognized for her live-theater work and teaching. 

Billings is also an activist for the LGBTQ community, and has won numerous awards for her work promoting equality and speaking out for AIDS causes. She has been living with HIV since 1985. Besides her GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comedy Series for Transparent, she was the recipient of the Human Rights Campaign’s Visibility Award in 2016. That award recognizes outstanding members of the LGBTQ community who live openly and freely in the public eye. During her acceptance speech, she said, “I cannot tell you how grateful I am that you’re here [looking] swell and eating the chicken, but I must tell you that we have to do something more than sit and speak and talk to our neighbors and eat great food and put on fancy clothes.”

The Human Rights Campaign’s Houston chapter has been very vocal about the onslaught of anti-trans activities in Texas and around the country in the last few years. On April 2, HRC Houston will host a noon Transgender Day of Visibility Rally at the Texas Capitol.  

Last year, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law House Bill 25, which requires K–12 students competing in interscholastic athletics to only play on sports teams that correspond to their gender at birth. This year, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton—whose tweet last month (which misgendered U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health Rachel Levine) was marked as “hateful conduct”—issued an opinion that gender-affirming health care for children should be criminalized as a form of child abuse. 

Governor Abbott followed up by ordering state agencies to investigate parents whose children are receiving gender-affirming health care, and threatening punishment for agents who fail to report it. The move has prompted an outcry from several corporations doing business in the state, and has forced some families with trans children to flee Texas in order for them to receive needed medical care. While this plays out in the courts, it is obvious that there is still much work to be done before transgender individuals finally achieve equality in Texas and around the country. 

As Billings said in 2016, “We have to do something more than sit and speak and talk to our neighbors and eat great food and put on fancy clothes.” 

What: HRC 2022 Houston Dinner
When: April 9 at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Marriott Marquis Houston, 1777 Walker St.
Tickets: tickets.hrc.org 

This article appears in the April 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.
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