A record number of supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community gathered Saturday for the fifth annual Human Rights Campaign Gala and Silent Auction, held this year at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City.
For four years, Bruce Bastian, co-founder of Word Perfect and HRC board of directors member, held the event at his home in Orem. However, the Utah Steering Committee and Bastian decided to move the gala to Salt Lake City to make it more accessible and allow for a larger crowd.
The gala saw record attendance with more than 800 people attending the dinner and party.
"This is not just a fundraiser, it is a yearly 'pump up the troops,' " Bastian said. "There is good energy here and a chance to feel like you belong for a night."
The gala included a dinner and party after a keynote address from Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., the first openly gay congresswoman.
"Out of all the other states, (Utah) has the highest ratio of straight allies," said HRC board of governors member Jerry Rapier.
One of the straight allies attending the event was Crystal Young-Otterstrom, who was asked to become a part of the Utah Steering Committee six months ago.
"I feel my religion has a lot to do with (my involvement)," said Young-Otterstrom, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and diversity co-chairwoman on the Steering Committee. "I am diversity, because I am a straight, liberal, active Mormon." Young-Otterstrom, said she believes church and state should be separate and that creation of our country was based on equal rights and freedoms.
"The church has a right not to practice (those same beliefs)," Young-Otterstrom said as she expressed a hope that one day a law would be passed to allow same-sex marriage within the state but also give the church a right to decide which marriages to allow.
"There is a problem that a (LGBT) partnership has no rights for hospital, health care and ownership," Young-Otterstrom said.
She said some of her friends agree with her, but others don't, and she respects that.
"(The gala) is the funnest event of the year," she said.
"We may have to go through and around some walls, but we will prevail very soon," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. Solmonese said during the dinner speech that "if we don't take action, they will" (referring to lawmakers).
Solmonese said with more than 26 different dinner events being organized in the United States every year, he finds Utah a particularly important area.
"I am incredibly inspired by the people here," Solmonese said. "This Utah organization really takes charge in what is arguably a challenging place for LGBT."
Solmonese hopes eventually to see the reversal of the "don't ask don't tell" policy, which prohibits gays from being openly gay in the military. Solmonese would also like to see the passing of the Hate Crimes Act.
Judy Shepard, who lost her son to a hate crime in Laramie, Wyo., in 1998 knows exactly why equality is important.
"This is why we need to stick together. We need an organization like the HRC to get us there."
Nikki Boyer, who is openly gay and also an LGBT activist, said she thinks LGBT issues will become nonissues in 20 years. "I see all these young people here with a hope for the future." Boyer said the gala was more than just a time to get together with people who have her same views, but also it "brings awareness to the need we have for civil rights."
At the event Rapier announced the campaign's success with same-sex marriage laws being passed recently in Connecticut and Iowa. Rapier also said Vermont and Maine will honor same-sex marriage in September and New Hampshire in January 2010.
Bastian spoke during the dinner, asking the LGBT community not to be passive.
"Lies and fear beat us in California, but it did not beat those in stonewall," Bastian said, referring to Proposition 8 and the Stonewall Riots in 1969 that took place after police raided a gay bar.
"In the end, truth and love will win," Bastian said.
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