The vibe was meant to be a little bit fun and celebratory, and it was. But it was also mixed with a sobering look at the year past and what is expected to be an all-hands-on-deck year for the LGBT community across the U.S.
The Human Rights Campaign held its first gala event of 2020 in Fort Lauderdale on Jan. 11 at the Ritz-Carlton. Organizers said 350 people attended.
The primary focus of the night — dubbed the “HRC South Florida Dinner” — was to raise funds for the organization’s many 2020 goals.
The HRC is the nation’s LGBT and queer civil rights organization. It has long flexed its political muscle with lawmakers in Washington, D.C., on a variety of equality issues.
Newly minted HRC president Alphonso David — who worked to pass marriage equality in New York in 2011 — provided the most boisterous speech of the night.
“As we gather here tonight I want you to think about some sobering facts,” he said. “In 23 days is the Iowa Caucuses; in 184 days is the start of the national convention in Milwaukee; in 297 days is Election Day. These are facts. They cannot be disputed by the president or labeled fake news. They’re real — it’s called a calendar.”
David, like most who took the stage at the event, stressed how high the stakes are for the LGBT community in the coming election and took shots at the current occupant of the White House.
“Over the past three years, we have witnessed an onslaught of attacks on our Constitution and the Bill of Rights by a president who has never read either of them,” David said. “He has sought a license to discriminate and attack transgender troops and transgender students.
The plight of the transgender community was in the spotlight throughout the night.
Gala co-chair Nik Harris began the program by reading the names of 25 transgender and gender nonconforming people who were killed in the U.S. in 2019, including two in South Florida.
“At every turn we feel under attack by a hostile presidential administration that’s elevating hate and acrimony in this country. Unfortunately, our community has been here before. We know the pain and indifference all too well,” Harris said.
Meanwhile, David, who is the first person of color to lead the HRC in 40 years, outlined what the HRC will focus on leading up to Election Day and beyond.
One of those areas is a new “transgender justice initiative.”
“At a moment when transgender women of color are living in crisis, we must do everything in our power to end the epidemic of violence that has claimed the lives of more than 150 transgender people,” David said. “Nearly all of them black, transgender women over the past several years.”
Other HRC initiatives include protecting voting rights and passage of the Equality Act.
David, who is also an attorney, said the HRC would expand its legal footprint by launching “impact litigation work” as well.
“When our relationships were criminalized, we had to fight. When our children were taken away from us because of who we are; we had to fight. When our very being was being deemed a sickness; we had to fight,” he said.
Part of the gala included recognizing two recipients of HRC’s “Visibility Award.”
Actor and singer Dyllón Burnside of TV show “Pose” on the FX Network was honored, as was the TransInclusive Group — a transgender-led, South Florida activist organization.
Burnside plays Ricky Evangelista on the FX series. He has also starred in the Tupac Shakur-inspired musical “Holler If Ya Hear Me on Broadway” and in roles on NBC’s “Peter Pan Live!” and HBO’s “High Maintenance.”
It is Burnside’s outspokenness about the importance of “Pose” in its representation of LGBT people of color that the HRC emphasized as the reason for the honor.
Cofounder and executive director of the TransInclusive Group, Tatiana Williams, accepted the award on behalf of the organization. Williams is also the testing and community mobilization coordinator at the Pride Center in Wilton Manors.
More information is at HRC.org.