The Diana Foundation is gearing up for a party fit for queens! The local philanthropic organization, now recognized as the oldest continuously running gay organization in the country, is celebrating a major milestone this year. The 70th Diana Awards, slated for April 1, will feature fabulous food, libations, a fan-favorite RuPaul’s Drag Race winner, and more.
Founded in 1953, The Diana Foundation focuses its efforts on “assisting and supporting the needs of the gay community by distributing funds to organizations that are dedicated to providing services that enhance the lives of deserving individuals in our diverse community.”
The philanthropic nature of the organization is what initially caught the attention of Howard Huffstutler, the organization’s 19th president. “I accompanied a friend of mine to the Diana Country Dinner in 2015 at Neon Boots,” he recalls. “There was a live auction, and one of the items was a meet-and-greet with the entertainer that evening, Steve Grand. The bids were in the hundreds, and I thought, ‘This guy is going to go back and tell everyone where he’s from how cheap we are!’ So I decided to throw my hat in the ring. I raised my paddle and yelled, ‘$1,000!’ There was a couple there who apparently really wanted to meet this guy, so they yelled, ‘$1,100!’”
The bidding war commenced, with Huffstutler bowing out just before the bidding reached $5,000. Still, his energy caught the eye of then president Tanner Williams. “He came over and thanked me for helping make the event such a success, and invited me to meet the artist anyway. I asked him to tell me a little more about The Diana Foundation, and I joined the club shortly thereafter.”
Being a member was fulfilling for Huffstutler, but then a position of leadership soon revealed itself. “I was voted in as a member and always had a feeling I would run for president, but I wanted to wait until I was eight years in,” he says with a hint of laughter. “When the call came, I knew I had to answer, so I skipped ahead a bit and ran for president at my five-year mark. It has proven to be a wonderful experience!”
Through various social gatherings, the fundraising organization is able to maintain its spirit of philanthropy by supporting many local LGBTQ organizations ever since it achieved nonprofit status in 1976. “[In its early] years, Diana operated as a social club exclusively. In my role as president, I wanted to continue elevating the organization and make sure we were being even more proactive at giving back to the community,” the leader explains. “We’ve been able to support so many causes throughout the years.”
In fact, The Diana Foundation has donated over $1.6 million since its founding. The legacy of this organization is not something Huffstutler takes lightly. “One major goal of mine is to make sure we bring in new members. When our older members (and myself) eventually pass on, we want to make sure the organization lives on and doesn’t just disappear.”
The jovial president takes pride in his role within the organization, always mindful of the way he was first introduced to it. “It’s my job to walk around at events, greet new faces I see in the crowd, thank them for coming and supporting us, telling them more about who we are, and inviting them to join us again. My board and committee members always give me a hard time and say that I don’t sit down and enjoy the events. Even though we have amazing volunteers and I know all is in good hands, I like to be a part of making sure everyone feels welcome.
“We have fabulous chairs for our events, but I am always there with my pail of water to put out any fires that pop up,” he admits. One such event is the upcoming 70th-Anniversary Diana Awards, entitled Diana Platinum. Huffstutler is overcome with emotion as he reflects on the organization’s seven decades. “It’s amazing that we’ve gotten to this point. I wasn’t going to let our 70th anniversary come and go without a big celebration. I think about all that our community has been through, and what we’ve survived over the years. The fact that we got to 70 years is no small feat.”
When it came to planning the upcoming ceremony, he knew he needed to go big. “Some Diana members were apprehensive about doing such a large-scale event. We’ve historically done smaller events, having started in peoples’ homes, then graduating to the Tower Theater and other venues. But this year, I said we need to go big or go home. The Queen of England got her platinum jubilee and we’re a bunch of queens, so we’re getting a jubilee, too!”
Bianca Del Rio, of Drag Race fame, is sure to bring the laughs as she hosts the festivities—including a four-course dinner, open bar, live and silent auctions, a comedy roast awards show, Texas drag legends Dina Jacobs, Tasha Kohl, Tommie Ross, and more. The event will go well into the night, complete with a disco after-party. “We’re going to have fabulous entertainment, we’re going all out on decorations, and after the two-hour program, guests will be invited to the Studio 54-themed disco dance party,” Huffstutler says. “It’s going to be fabulous!”
Beneficiaries for this year’s event include the Law Harrington Senior Living Center, Open Gate Homeless Ministries, and Avenue 360. “These organizations do so much important work for our community, and it’s an honor for us to support the work they’re doing,” Huffstutler says. Reflecting on the impact of The Diana Foundation over the years, he concludes, “Our members have lived through some really scary times in our country’s history, and being able to support organizations that are continuing to do the work that needs to be done is what being a part of The Diana Foundation is all about.”
For more information about the history of the Diana Foundation, see Brandon Wolf’s in-depth series for OutSmart magazine.
What: The Diana Foundation’s 70th Platinum Jubilee
When: April 1, 2023
Where: The Ballroom at Bayou Place