Getting the word out on issues gays and lesbians face every day is essential if progress is to be made, said Neil G. Giuliano, president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

Giuliano, who served as mayor of Tempe, Ariz., for 10 years, was to speak to an expected crowd of about 1,000 people Tuesday at a fund-raising dinner for the Equality Utah Political Action Committee. He said he would encourage those present to tell their stories to everyone from elected officials to neighbors to co-workers.

"What we know is this: When people know someone who is openly gay or lesbian and are able to understand a person's concerns ... they become very real for everyone," Giuliano told the Deseret Morning News in an interview before the event in the Salt Palace. "That's really how we're going to build a strong alliance and stop defamation."

Jane Marquardt, board chair of Equality Utah, said the $100-per-plate event would be an opportunity for the Equality Utah PAC to raise funds and awareness.

Marquardt said 56 candidates sought the PAC's endorsement. Equality Utah is aware of four gay and lesbian candidates, who are among the 37 endorsed by the PAC for offices from school boards to the state Legislature. Most of those attended Tuesday's dinner, she said.

"It was by far the most people we've ever had interested in our endorsement," Marquardt said. "The fact that 56 candidates wanted to meet with us says a lot of people are interested in conversations with us."

Giuliano offered his congratulations to Equality Utah for its work in raising awareness, building alliances and acknowledging its straight allies.

"The more we can have fair, accurate and inclusive coverage of our lives ... the more opportunities people will have to understand our issues," he told the Deseret Morning News. "More and more our issues are being discussed. We have to have those conversations. We won't make progress if we don't have those conversations."