Dallas Black Tie Affair Raises Over $1M for HIV Orgs
Some nights leave you changed. They make you feel sure that the whole world could be changed too, if only they had been there to witness it. That was how Black Tie Dinner felt in Dallas on November 2 at Sheraton Dallas, which marked the tenth year for the event at this venue. It was a night filled with excitement, glamour, and the kind of inspiration that everyone deserves to experience at least once in their life.
The night started off with a bang and a surprise. First there was a performance by Cheyenne Jackson of "Glee" fame and then an appearance by Texas State Senator Wendy Davis. The audience was delighted to hear Jackson perform. But they absolutely sprang to their feet as Davis took the stage. It was clear in that moment that we were a part of history in the making.
Event goers hung on her every word as she talked about her own experience as a nine-year-old girl writing letters for her grandfather, saying, "How painful it is to lose your voice and how important it is to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. I have seen the power one voice can bring and the change that can come for it."
She spoke about her now famous filibuster, leaving the audience nodding in agreement and cheering her every word. "I was speaking for men and women across Texas who desperately wanted to be heard. It was the people’s filibuster."
It’s hard to imagine a better start to an evening themed "One Voice" and celebrating its 32nd year of raising money and awareness for LGBTQ causes. "It’s time to give all Texans a voice in their future," Davis told the crowd. "There are better opportunities ahead. There is no fight we can’t take on and win. Where you start has nothing to do with how far you can go."
Texas Native Dustin Lance Black Speaks
But Davis was just the beginning of what proved to be a truly spine-tingling evening. Kleenex was in order when the night’s featured speaker Academy Award-winning screenwriter and executive producer, Dustin Lance Black, took the stage. His speech was as empowering as "Milk," the film for which he’s famous.
Black, a native Texan, could not feel any more connected to the cause of LGBTQ equality. "When we won the court case in California earlier this year," he told Edge, "it was clear that we live in two Americas. All you have to do is cross the state line and you have less protection [if you are LGBTQ]."
Black fights, he said, because his own brother who died of cancer, "never had the chance to know what it was to be a full American. He will never have the chance to have the country he loved respect him in return."
When Black took the stage, he again spoke about the brother he called, "a real redneck. My brother loved to watch cars go around in a circle. Loved to shoot guns. Yet he will never know a day where he is respected and protected." He also spoke about his cousin who he brought to he event, teasing, "She likes gay people. Before ’Will and Grace.’ She’s a God damned Texas saint."
But not all families are so supportive. "We live in a checkerboard nation," Black continued, "where some states are free and some states are not."
By the end of his speech, Black teared up and it was clear the audience was right there with him, rising to their feet, all cheers and applause as he finished his moving speech.
"I’m back in Texas and I’m ready to fight," Black said. "Tell your personal story. Tell it to everyone. With your bravery, you can change hearts. Change Dallas. Change Texas. Change nations. We pledge our allegiance to one America. We do not leave any of our brothers and sisters behind no matter who they love."
Award for Actress Fran Drescher
The night continued with awards, as The 2013 Media Award was given to actress Fran Drescher and the man who interestingly refers to himself as "Fran Drescher’s gay ex-husband," Peter Marc Jacobson. David Taffet of the Dallas Voice received the 2013 Raymond Kuchling Humanitarian Award.
Author and advocate for family equality, Zach Wahls, was awarded the 2013 Elizabeth Birch Equality Award. Wahls was the youngest ever to receive the award at just 22-years old.
"The time has come to march away from Santorum’s vision of the future to our vision. Respect for all. Malice towards none," said Wahls.
Jeff Zarillo and Paul Katami, plaintiffs of the Proposition 8 case, also spoke at the event, put real faces to the case and a real voice to the reason why our fight for marriage equality continues despite the strides we make nearly every day.
Current HRC President Chad Griffin gave one of the rousing speeches for which he is becoming well-known and well-loved, saying, "In one America, mostly on the coasts, full equality is nearly a reality. But in the middle of the country, fairness is nearly non-existent."
Both silent and live auctions rounded out the evening, which also included the annual Mercedes raffle, for which someone bought 300 tickets to benefit East Texas Cares.
R&B Legend Patti LaBelle Wows the Crowd
The event’s grand finale was an outstanding performance by pop and R&B veteran Patti LaBelle, who performed "New Attitude," "If You Asked Me To," "On My Own" and "Lady Marmalade." The Black Tie Dinner decided to engage a performer for the event based on the incredibly positive feedback they received from guests when Taylor Dayne performed in 2011.
Also new this year, Black Tie Dinner brought in a special DJ Patrick Kazara from New York to elevate the AfterBlack Dance Party, and they created a Presenting Sponsor spot for the first time, which was filled by Turtle Creek Solutions.
Approximately 3,000 people attended Black Tie Dinner this year. We won’t know the total raised for a few weeks now. But last year’s event, also with 3,000 attendees, raised more than $1M. This year’s distribution will be announced at the official Black Tie Dinner Distribution Celebration on Wednesday, Dec. 11 at Rare in Dallas.
The Black Tie Dinner Board of Directors chooses up to 20 North Texas beneficiaries and one National beneficiary, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, to receive proceeds from Black Tie Dinner, which has distributed more than $17M in the past decade.
This year’s North Texas beneficiaries are AIDS Arms, AIDS Interfaith Network, AIDS Outreach Center, AIDS Services of Dallas, Celebration Community Church, Congregation Beth El Binah, East Texas CARES Resource Center, Equality Texas Foundation, Health Services of North Texas, Legacy Counseling Center, Legal Hospice of Texas, Northaven United Methodist Church, Resource Center Dallas, Turtle Creek Chorale, White Rock Friend and the Women’s Chorus of Dallas.
Black Tie Dinner may only come around once a year, but it changes the lives of everyone it touches. It’s a remarkable feat really, an event of this magnitude. The chairs (this year Mitzi Lemons and Ken Morris) and the board work year-round to bring together the best possible program of talent and speakers and auction goods.
Attendees put their wallets to work and they dress to the nines while they’re doing it. (Special thanks to Dallas designer Jesse Thaxton for the dress and coat she created for me to wear that evening.) And everyone celebrates the strides we have made and the commitment we continue to make to, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."
Mark your calendars now to be part of next year’s event on Nov. 14, 2014. For more information, visit blacktie.org