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Empowering Diversity: 2024 HRC Houston Dinner with Co-Chairs Chris Barry and Rey Ocañas

You Belong. We Belong.

The HRC Dinner Co-Chairs, Chris Barry (l) and Rey Ocañas, share the importance and objectives of the annual fundraising event.

Across the nation the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) hosts numerous fundraising dinners that honor members and allies of the LGBTQIA+ community. This year’s HRC Houston Dinner will be held on April 6 at Marriott Marquis Houston. Co-Chairs Rey Ocañas and Chris Barry, share the importance and objectives of the annual local HRC fundraising event.

This year’s dinner, themed “We Belong,” delivers a simple yet potent message. “With all that’s going on across the country, in the presidential election, and currently on the right that is so anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-trans, we want to remind ourselves and remind our friends that might join us at dinner that we belong,” states cis-gender gay man and adoptive father of two Ocañas. “We belong in Texas. We belong in the U.S. We belong in society.”

“Honestly, that’s exactly what’s going on,” echoes graysexual-identifying Barry. “It’s got everything to do with celebrating our community, as well as restating ‘You might try to erase trans people, you might try to erase the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole, but that’s not going to happen because we belong.’”

Ocañas, Executive VP, Managing Director of Community Development Banking at PNC Bank.

Ocañas, Executive VP, Managing Director of Community Development Banking, has been involved with HRC for years and has worked with them in multiple cities. When PNC acquired BBVA, the company took over sponsoring this annual event. “I managed the sponsorship and soon enough was asked to join the national board of HRC,” explains Ocañas. “A couple of years later, I was asked to become one of the co-chairs [of the dinner].”

“I joined the steering committee with HRC in Houston when I moved here about three years ago,” says Barry. “I was connected to leaders within the board here in Houston, and after being with the board for a year, they asked me to be one of the co-chairs for the dinner.”

As a localized fundraiser for a national nonprofit, there are multiple reasons for the event to exist. “The first is to gather us and raise awareness about the important issues facing the LGBTQ+ community and our fight for equality and liberation. The second is to raise important funds for the work of the Human Rights Campaign and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation,” Ocañas says. “The last is to celebrate and honor those that have worked really hard on behalf of and to bring positivity to the community.”

Chris Barry, HRC Houston Steering Committee

The 2024 HRC Houston Dinner will honor Rice PRIDE, the organization supporting and empowering all LGBTQIA+ undergraduate students at Rice University, and actor Kevin McHale, a Texas native who is best known for portraying Artie Abrams on Fox’s Glee.

“We’re honoring Rice PRIDE for opening up their queer center to all. What they intended was to open it up to all the Houston-area college students to be able to come to their events, and what happened was it went statewide,” reveals Barry. “They literally have students from around the state who are joining in on their events through Zoom if they can’t personally drive to the events that Rice PRIDE is offering. We thought that that was just a tremendous lift, and what a wonderful thing to do!”

“I’m a Rice alum, so I’m super proud of the fact that the school and its students really have led the charge to support others,” adds Ocañas. “It’s just nuts what’s happening with state schools. This is such a glimmer of hope for students around the state.”

As many of us are still feeling the budgetary crunch of inflation and its more nefarious counterpart greedflation, it can be challenging to justify donating. “The funds [raised], locally, go to support volunteers so that we can have things like the block walking that we do as electioneering work for LGBTQ+ supportive candidates in local and state races,” Ocañas says.

Ocañas and Barry also pointed out that funds raised are used to send volunteers to Washington, D.C. for training on how to testify in both the Texas and United States Houses of Representatives. They also are used to support local LGBTQIA+ causes, such as registering for local pride events. “We support Trans Day of Remembrance and a variety of other local prides like The Woodlands Pride, not just the main Houston one,” says Ocañas.

“Last year, one of the things we did was take some of those funds to purchase banned books to give to students around Houston,” adds Barry. “We were able to provide over a thousand dollars worth of books to [2023 honoree] Cameron Samuels to distribute at read-ins they were having around the Katy school district.”

Tables and tickets for the 2024 HRC Houston Dinner are still available for purchase at Houston.HRC.org/Events/houston-dinner. OutSmart readers can save $25 with code OUTSMARTMAG. Lastly, if you cannot afford to sponsor a table or purchase a ticket, you can volunteer for the event. More information about volunteering can be found at Houston.HRC.org.

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David Clarke

David Clarke is a freelance writer contributing arts, entertainment, and culture stories to OutSmart.
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