In With the Out Crowd
Last year's election frenzy had dozens of area political candidates tripping over themselves to get into the annual black-tie dinner/fundraiser of the Human Rights Campaign. This year, local leaders of the HRC, a national gay rights lobby, will have a better gauge for determining who their friends are when they count the heads of elected officials who show up with checkbooks during a non-election year.
The annual gala -- one of the premier showcases for the lesbian and gay community and their straight supporters -- takes place Saturday, March 17, at the Four Seasons Hotel, amid the high-octane atmosphere of South by Southwest. Drawing on that environment, HRC has tapped musician Shawn Colvin to perform at the VIP soiree that precedes the dinner.
While HRC lobbies primarily at the federal level, Austin's annual dinner turns the spotlight on local contributors to the cause. This year's Equality Awards will go to Austin Rep. Glen Maxey, the only openly gay legislator in Texas; Out Youth Austin, an advocacy group for young people; and Scott Dinger, founder of the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival.
"This is likely Glen's last term," explained Stephen Wright, who serves on HRC's Board of Governors. "And we want to honor him for all the work he does now and for what he has done for so many years, long before he became a representative. Glen is such a well-rounded legislator, he not only represents us but he represents his district phenomenally well." Out Youth Austin is honored this year for its tireless work with the youthful set of the community, and Dinger for his cultural contribution, which, as Wright points out, "makes us more visible."
Honored guests include Mayor Kirk Watson -- who, while he has angered many neighborhood and environmental activists, is immensely popular among lesbian and gay interests -- and Bettie Naylor, a Capitol lobbyist and one of three award recipients at last year's HRC event. Also, Congressman Lloyd Doggett will attend as an honoree. HRC leaders have (for the most part) forgiven his vote for the Defense of Marriage Act, and praise the other work that he's done on the group's behalf. "Congressman Doggett is a good example of someone whose religious background and social background have caused him to have to work to understand us," Wright said. "He hasn't been perfect, but anyone who thinks he's not a friend of the gay and lesbian community hasn't really studied the issues."
Out-of-towners coming for the event include California Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez (who last year canceled a fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion after other Dems raised a stink about it at the national convention); former Wisconsin Republican Rep. Steve Gunderson; and Corey Johnson, an HRC youth spokesman and openly gay high school student and football team captain.
You can buy tickets to the dress-up shindig through HRC's box office, 1-800-494-8497, or online at www.hrcaustin.org. For more info, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Wright at 441-2338, or Michaelanne Richter at 447-4985.
Gay activism continues the following day, March 18, with the biannual March on Hate procession to the Capitol, sponsored by the Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby of Texas.