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Black Tie Dinner: Dallas Raises Money And Their Voices

Posted: 11/21/11 12:50 PM ET

On Saturday, Nov. 12, over 3,000 people got together and raised more than $1 million to support HRC (Human Rights Campaign) and a variety of other LGBT-focused North Texas charities.

Black Tie Dinner celebrated its 30th anniversary this year, and it was quite the star-studded event. Just after we arrived we had the chance to meet the very sweet Jesse Tyler Ferguson of Modern Family fame (and his adorable beau, 26-year-old attorney Justin Mikita), Caroline Rhea of Sabrina the Teenage Witch fame, and Taylor Dane of, uh, 80s fame.

I also bumped into the very handsome Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign, and his equally handsome partner Jed Hastings, whom I look forward to seeing every year at the event. Solmonese, the King of the Gays, to be sure, works tirelessly year after year for LGBT rights and equality. This year, sadly, will be his last at the post.

The evening was emceed by Caroline Rhea; Taylor Dane was the special performer; Joe Solmonese was a featured speaker; Eric Alva was presented with the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award; Bud Knight and Chet Flake received the Kuchling Humanitarian Award; Jesse Tyler Ferguson was presented with the Black Tie Media Award; and Marlee Matlin, with her interpreter Jack Jason, delivered the keynote address.

Black Tie Dinner boasts top dog sponsors like Game Stop, Diamond Jacks, Grey Goose, Sheraton Dallas, American Airlines, Gardere, Park Place Motor Cars, and Turtle Creek Solutions, Inc. The co-chairs this year were Nan Faith Arnold and Kouvelis. The silent auction was packed with everything from tickets to furniture to gifts for four legged friends. The luxury auction offered a number of trips and packages. And there was some serious bidding going on.

This was our third year attending, and, I have to admit, it's a blast. What to wear is part of the excitement, and we weren't there two seconds before someone asked, "Oh, my God, who are you wearing?"

"Betsey Johnson," I said.

"And those jewels?"

"Erickson Beamon."

"You mean the one who designs for Gaga?"

"The very one."

"Damn."

The highlight of the evening was Marlee Matlin's speech. Her words were inspiring and funny and remarkably powerful:

No one should take no for an answer. ... If we all work together despite how ridiculous it gets out there... It just drives me nuts that people are concerned with who we love... I like to make noise. Make noise on Twitter. Make noise on YouTube. We must all make noise to senators and representatives and friends. We must fight every day until hate and discrimination are eliminated. ... It's all about intention. ... The only barriers that are out there for all of us are all up here in the mind. We must not let hose who prejudice the mind with hate overtake us.

When she was done speaking, she offered up the earrings she was wearing, black and white diamond hoops. They ended up going for $10,000 after some spirited bidding and Rhea pulling one guest onstage to persuade her to up her bid.

Rhea offered up two Broadway tickets and a backstage meet-and-greet with Hugh Jackman, which two bidders jumped on for $12,500 each. It will be December before the final numbers are in, but trusted sources tell me more than $1 million will be distributed thanks to the night's festivities.

It can be easy to forget how important it is to continue to fundraise and to donate despite the economy. Just because it's down and out doesn't mean that there aren't still people who need help. The fight for LGBT equality is far from over. And it doesn't care how far stocks fall or how high unemployment rises.

It was an evening filled with the kinds of words that you want to write on your mirror and remind yourself of every day."You're the activist I'd hope to be," Jesse Tyler Ferguson said to Joe Solmonese, when Ferguson received his award. "You get much more back than you give, I promise you," Chet Flake said upon receiving the Humanitarian Award.

The work that goes into this event is incredible. But it's even more incredible how many lives are touched by it. The work goes on all year long. But it's nice to have one night to celebrate and to motivate ourselves to keep fighting the good fight. Matlin's words will definitely be running through my head for years to come.

"I can't hear," Matlin said, "but silence is the last thing the world will ever, ever hear from me."

 
 
 

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