Gay Atlanta took an upscale break from fighting for equality on Saturday to toast marriage equality, raise funds and celebrate local heroes during a packed HRC dinner.
Nearly 1,200 people filled a ballroom at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta for the sold-out 28th Annual HRC Atlanta Gala Dinner. The gala celebrated LGBT milestones – including what could be a decision in June from the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage – but came with a warning from Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, and HRC President Chad Griffin that there is more work to be done.
"The work doesn't end with a Supreme Court victory. If we've learned anything from the story of civil rights and equality in America, it's that lasting change requires long-term commitment," Biden said (top photo). "It means staying engaged and vigilant and not taking progress for granted. If you're not careful, it can be taken away."
Griffin warned that controversies over "religious freedom" legislation in several states – including Georgia, Indiana and Arkansas – showed that even with a gay marriage victory this summer, anti-gay activists are continuing their work. HRC officials announced at the dinner that the organization spent $70,000 to team with Georgia Equality and create Georgia Unites Against Discrimination in January. The organization helped coalesce support against two "religious freedom" bills in the state legislature, though one came close to becoming law before stalling in the closing days of the session.
"It was right here in Georgia that we not only saw an Indiana-style, so-called 'religious freedom' bill introduced, but for a while it looked like it was going to pass," Griffin said. "Anti-LGBT activists, they thought they could sneak it through under the cover of darkness. And those lawmakers that wanted to enshrining discrimination into Georgia law, they didn't quite know what they were getting themselves into, did they?"
'Marriage equality is not the end'
Griffin (second photo) said that even through same-sex couples may soon be able to marry in states including Georgia, they can still be fired from their jobs and evicted from their apartments after they post wedding photos on social media.
"We also know that marriage equality is not the end to that long and grinding road to full equality. Beyond marriage, there are enormous battles ahead of us," Griffin said.
"Even securing marriage equality doesn't guarantee that our families will be treated equally under our laws. After all, you don't have to look beyond the borders of this state to know that we are still in the fight of our lives," he added.
But the gala came just four days after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in gay marriage cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee and Ohio. On Saturday, Jim Obergefell recounted the touching story of what led him to become the lead plaintiff in the Ohio case. His partner, John Arthur, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease in 2011. In 2013, the couple of more than 20 years flew from Ohio in a plane designed to address Arthur's medical needs so they could be married on the tarmac at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. When they returned to Ohio, the couple sued for recognition of their marriage so that Obergefell's name would appear on Arthur's death certificate. Arthur died shortly after their return.
"I'm humbled to be able to play a small part in moving that fight forward," Obergefell said.
LGBT and gay-friendly officials aplenty
The event included appearances by several gay and gay-friendly elected officials and past office-holders, including U.S. Rep. John Lewis, state Sen. Vincent Fort, state Reps. Simone Bell and Margaret Kaiser, Atlanta City Council member Alex Wan, Fulton Superior Court Judge Jane Barwick, and former Atlanta City Council Presidents Cathy Woolard and Lisa Borders.
Woolard, the first openly gay person elected to Atlanta City Council, has announced she's running for mayor and will likely face Kaiser, among other LGBT-friendly candidates in the 2017 campaign. Woolard entered the ballroom with Shelitha Robertson, who lost to Barwick in a runoff last year for the Fulton judgeship. Woolard and other LGBT politicos supported Barwick's campaign as she replaced Judge Cynthia Wright as the bench's only openly lesbian judge. Roberts unsuccessfully ran for Fulton Superior Court in 2010 and the Atlanta City Council in 2009. She has stumped for LGBT votes and is credited with securing bail for the Eagle 8 when they were jailed in the botched Eagle raid in September 2009.
Guests at the dinner also included state Rep. Patricia Todd, the first-ever openly gay elected official in Alabama, and lesbian comedian Dana Goldberg.
During the dinner, HRC awarded Action Cycling Atlanta with the Dan Bradley Humanitarian Award and honored the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Georgia's gay marriage ban with the Leon Allen & Winston Johnson Community Leadership Award.