HRC Utah to Hold 5th Annual Gala Dinner

This year’s Utah Human Rights Campaign’s annual dinner will be the same glamorous gala it has always been, though long-time attendees will notice a few changes.

The most noticeable being a change in venue. After four years in philanthropist Bruce Bastian’s backyard, the dinner is moving to the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City.

“The economic impact is hitting everyone so it’s a lot more cost-effective to have it here,” said Jerry Rapier, who co-chairs this year’s dinner along with Julie Brizzee and Luana Chilelli. The move to a fully-staffed and stocked hotel, Rapier explained, saves such overhead costs as bringing in a portable kitchen — and a slash in overhead prices translates into more money sent to HRC. And it also translates into cheaper ticket prices–$125 for a regular ticket until June 14 and $150 after that (down from $175 last year). The price of VIP tickets, which cost $300 last year, has also been lowered to $200. Other benefits of moving the diner include also include convenience for Salt Lake Valley residents, especially as the Grand America is located on the TRAX line.

Also, Rapier said the hotel is one of two venues in the state that can accommodate a dinner of 800 or more people — the other being the Salt Palace. Given that Equality Utah holds its annual Allies Dinner at the second location, Rapier said the HRC’s Utah steering committee didn’t want to encroach on their space.

Rapier noted that the decision to hold the gala at the Grand America had also drawn some criticism, due to owner Earl Holding’s “past relationship with the GLBT community.”

“But he is not now the management of the hotel,” said Rapier. “Now the management is very supportive of the dinner, and they are really trying to improve upon the previous management’s view of and view by the GLBT community. They’ve been amazing with us, giving us more flexibility with the contract than they [typically] give, because they really want to change their image.”

“We feel like it’s an opportunity to build bridges,” he continued. “The best way to help the Grand America change its relationship with and view of the GLBT community is to have a whole bunch of homos running around inside the hotel.”

Along with a change in venue, the dinner’s theme will also be a little different than in years past. Instead of leaving the choice of theme up to each state, Rapier said the theme for HRC dinners is the same: Speak The Truth.

“The whole idea is, as the fight goes forward, we need to be comfortable speaking the truth — making sure people know who we are as a GLBT community, finding our voice and not letting lies populate people’s consciousness,” Rapier explained. “I would venture to say there isn’t a person in this country who doesn’t know someone who isn’t gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, but it’s up to [us] to let them know they know us, and let them see us as people.”

There will also be a change in entertainment. In the past four years, Utah’s HRC Gala has had a single entertainer. This year it will boast two: R & B singer/songwriter Thelma Houston (of “Don’t Leave Me This Way” fame) and dance-pop performer Kristine W, who will perform at the gala’s after party.

“There’s quite a few people who are just really committed to supporting HRC — several performers who discount their performance fees,” said Rapier, noting that Houston and Kristine W fall into this category.  “In the past we had bands playing by the pool, but not an organized performance. There’s the party and the after party and everyone’s invited to stay.”

The dinner’s keynote speaker will be Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay national congressperson.

“There’s a lot of [openly gay legislators] at the state level, but she is an out lesbian representative from Wisconsin fighting the fight,” said Rapier. “She’s never not been out, she’s really forward-thinking on a lot of issues, and she’s incredibly popular. I think it’s encouraging just to look at things politically on a national scale, that the out lesbian is from the Midwest, not from a coastal state that one would expect. It’s exciting to have her as part of our dinner and help us shift the perception between her and the fact Iowa really leapt to the forefront for the fight for marriage equality. You never know where allies lie and where progress can be made. Hopefully for Utah the idea is to see that change can happen in the most unlikely of places. Even here. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”

HRC Utah will also honor two community leaders at the dinner: Jim Dabakis, who played a key role in founding both Equality Utah and the Utah Pride Center, and former Center board chair and current Equality Utah board chair Stephanie Pappas.

“Stephanie is truly a passionate leader. She is about the work and about equality and about supporting in any way she can,” said Rapier. “Jim is an idea guy. Neither Equality Utah or the Center would have existed without him. He’s been outspoken and pushing buttons and pushing things forward in our community for decades, and in his case it’s recognition long overdue.”

Despite the recent economic downturn, Rapier said that the response to this year’s dinner has been outstanding — due, he said, in part to the political climate created by such things as the federal employment non-discrimination act and the subject of gay marriage.

“We have more table captains than we’ve ever had and more sponsorship than we’ve ever had. And that’s exciting,” he said.

The dinner will also feature a silent auction, which includes a two-year lease from Ken Garff Mercedes. Tickets for this special prize will be $100 each. To buy dinner tickets visit utah.hrc.org/dinner.

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