If it’s fall in Salt Lake, local members of the LGBTQ+ community know to start breaking out their finest for the annual Allies Dinner. However, this year’s event, hosted by Equality Utah, is nothing but turnkey. Attendees and supporters can, of course, rely on fundraising for an important queer cause, great food, and fabulous entertainment, but this year they’ll be in a totally new package.
The past 16 years have seen many iterations of the Allies Dinner. QSaltLake Magazine picked the brain of Mindy Young, director of development at Equality Utah, to root through the history and future of this signature community gathering.
“It was originally Unity Utah instead of Equality Utah,” said Young of the event’s beginnings, “It started being hosted in a small room in a restaurant and we couldn’t believe people showed up. It’s just grown and grown.”
As the numbers of people wanting to participate soared, the event graduated to the Salt Palace. But even the cavernous and iconic downtown venue could not contain the now riotous and celebratory Allies Dinner, having served 1,950 attendees last year.
“In the Salt Palace we were squished to the gills,” said Young, “we could hardly walk between tables.”
A special offering for this particular kind of mission-driven work brought the event’s team an answer they were in growing need of finding. The Eccles Theater’s nonprofit rate made it possible to bring the Allies Dinner more space for people, food, and of course, flash.
Of her close colleague and executive director of Equality Utah, Troy Williams, Young said, “Both Troy and I are theater people and so moving to the Eccles presented a fascinating question. We were like ‘What does it become?’”
The answer: an all-out extravaganza.
“We’re calling it the Camp Gala. Everybody gets so into the dressing up — this year it’s glamour inferno. With Billy Porter we’re all feeling the pressure to be even more fabulous,” said Young on this year’s theme and talent.
What was once a dinner has responded to the clamor of support with a no-holds-barred evening planned for glamorous attendees. Supporters will experience the event in three acts, a structure paying homage to its new home.
Act One will kick off the night with socializing over a gourmet menu.
“At many galas, you don’t really get to mix and mingle with everyone, this will be a chance for folks to actually be together,” said Young on their commitment to building community.
Food service will be executed by Culinary Crafts, a prolific Utah-based catering company. The meal will be served tapas-style and available to grab and go on every single one of the five floors of the venue.
That’s not everything.
“There will be entertainment, photo ops, music, everything going on all different levels,” Young said.
In Act Two, guests will sit down to the show itself. The production will feature local actors who all volunteer their time and talent to the cause.
“I get incredible Salt Lake-based collaborators and just show off lots of local talent,” said Young.
The show will of course center on the distribution of awards and the host and headliner Billy Porter. co-chairs Olivia Jaramillo, Mary Kaye Huntsman, and Dhiraj Chand will honor Taryn Hiatt and Carol Lynn Pearson alongside heroes of the legislature who helped get anti-hate crime legislation passed. Equality Utah spent four years working in tandem with these legislators fighting to put laws in place preventing hate crimes in their home state.
“For years we had to wade through without these protections,” Young said, “These dollars are going to serious things like that and to contribute to keeping that kind of work happening. Our impact on the legislature is incredible. It keeps a balance on our state.”
The show itself is one of the aspects that will be most impacted by the changes in store in 2019. After years of struggling to put on a proper show, Young is excited.
“We now have state-of-the-art sound and lighting. The Salt Palace has been great and we hope to have more events there, but we needed to grow. We’re getting so much more support than ever and we appreciate it so much.”
This reinvention will create what Young deems a “dynamic experience” made possible by the amazing facilities local to Salt Lake City.
The stage will be peppered with local drag queens including Molly Mormon, Savannah Van Cartier, London Skies and led up by emcee Gia Bianca Stephens. Brad Carroll of the Utah Shakespeare Festival will serve as musical director to dancers of Ballet West. All the excitement and star power will culminate in a closing number with the entire ensemble led by Billy Porter himself.
“The show could stand on its own, but we wanted it to be an event where we get to be with each other and really see each other,” Young said with pride shining through her voice.
Finally, Act Three brings a nightclub-style after-party with more entertainment and an exciting DJ to be announced shortly. According to Young, “You don’t have to go anywhere for the after-party, it will be right there in the Eccles.”
Beyond the thrilling event offerings, Equality Utah has serious work to do. One message Young wants folks to walk away with is that the Allies Dinner is for everyone. Scholarship tickets are available and have always been, for those who cannot hit the higher price point tickets and sponsorships. “I hope you’ll encourage people — you just have to click and fill it out,” explained Young, “It will grant access to a lot of people who haven’t been able to come. We’re hoping people will take advantage of it.” With 700 more seats to offer, the event now has room to become even more inclusive than it has been in years past.
With the mantra “spark the fire” at the core of this year’s event, we had Young speak to the meaning of this phrase to those planning it.
“It’s the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. We have great reverence because of that. We have been thinking about how we can take these embers that have been burning and spark them and make it grow.”
She joked that the team had originally thought the word they were looking for was ‘stoke’ but decided that, “spark is more fabulous.” The theme is serious, yet playful. Young shared that there will be fans available to guests so, “We can all shablam like Todrick and then fan the flame inside ourselves.”
Fun, games, food, and celebration aside the dollars collected through the Allies Gala will funnel through the community which supports it and which it supports.
Other efforts of Equality Utah have seen similar giving cycles, like their campaign to end conversion therapy.
“We had funding from so many donors who wanted to see it end it Utah,” Young said of the effort’s success. “We were shown so much love financially that we were able to do things like place billboards against conversion therapy on the Wasatch Front.”
The way donations can widen and spread the message of the organization is key to its growth.
“When it moves out of just our queer community — when people outside are talking about ending it — that’s what we need,” Young said.
The reach of Equality Utah is spreading fast with the help of generous donors like these, with a new regional coordinator in St. George and the Wasatch Back, their small staff of five is starting to be able to reach throughout this broad state.
“Think of all the actual lobbying and the work we do on the hill, it’s endless,” said Young, “It’s just so much work, it’s all encompassing.”
She shared a memory of their latest slate of events in St. George being constantly interrupted by notifications coming through about news from their latest session in the legislature. That’s where the money goes — to expanding the capacity of EU to convene more people in the community and reach more people outside of it.
“This tireless work has been worth it,” gushed Young, “We try to find common ground for all Utahns. We all deserve to live a healthy, happy life without being afraid of being fired because of our identity. That’s the goal. We’re moving good things forward and bad things towards the back.”
More information about the Allies Gala can be found on the Equality Utah website and Facebook. Attendees can check out further information and buy tickets there, as well as collect their 30% discount Lyft Code.