Staff writer Juliana Long. Flashes of brightly colored gowns and sleek embroidered suit jackets zipped by me every which way. People chattered and cackled loudly over glasses of fizzling champagne. Smiles were shining wide everywhere. This was just one of the whirlwind snapshots I found myself in at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual gala.
One very special night a year, members of the LGBTQ+ community and its allies alike from all over the country gather at a hotel in Philadelphia — this year, at the Philadelphia Hotel, to celebrate one another’s identities, differences, and perseverance.
The HRC gala consists of a dinner and silent auction to celebrate that year’s success for the HRC. The Human Rights Campaign is a nonprofit organization that supports and fights for the LGBTQ+ community within the US.
Attendance at the gala starts at $150, so how did I manage to get in? Through SLA’s Community Involvement Club.
The gala relies heavily on volunteers, and our duties are very hands-on. Straight off the bat, volunteers are thrown in with the guests and we are the first smiling faces they see.
My friends and I from CIC started off our night by working registration. We signed guests into the event, provide them with their VIP wristbands & other perks, and send them off to enjoy their night. This job was heaps of fun – every guest is warm and wholesome. We met people of every variety — drag queens in full costume, young lesbians clutching one another’s hands, and even a sweet elderly gay man who asked me to pin a tiny rainbow flag to his suit jacket. We also met some guests who had great senses of humor; my friend Maren Lamb met a guest with the same last name and the two of them shared a cute moment — to which his plus one responded: “This always happens when Lambs meet each other!”
After a few hours of work, The HRC provided us with an amazing dinner and dessert in our volunteer break room (mostly carbs, to keep us on our feet the rest of the night) during a break in our volunteer duties. This break served as a time for all volunteers from different organizations to regroup and get to know one another a little more. There was even an SLA alumn who we got to chat with briefly.
We were also permitted to stand near the lights and inside the guests’ dinner to watch some of the speakers, such as politicians and comedians. We all felt pretty special knowing that these guests had paid hundreds of dollars to see these speakers and all we had to do was sign up on an online volunteer form. The room, full of incredibly important politicians, activists, performers, etc., had a seriously magical feeling inside of it. The strength and perseverance inside all of the guests truly radiated off of them.
As the guests’ dinner came to a close, it was back to work for volunteers helping with the silent auction. The items up for auction were adorable: rainbow dog harnesses, Freddie Mercury enamel pins, Call Me by Your Name themed movie night kits — the works. Additionally, every item came with a bottle of pride-themed vodka courtesy of Smirnoff. I hope that the guests didn’t notice how jealous I was as I retrieved their packages and passed them over.
Chatting with the now buzzed guests was just as if not more fun than earlier in the night before the dinner had started. They were even sillier and sweeter than when we had first met them. We bid them all a good night as they stumbled out of the hotel with their auction prizes tucked under their arms.
Throughout the night, gratitude towards volunteers never fluctuated. If there’s anything the HRC was able to nail apart from hosting a successful event, it was showing volunteers appreciation. The HRC showed support to absolutely everyone — volunteers and guests alike. Whether it be refraining from asking for ID’s for people whose identities don’t match their legal identification or ensuring that everyone arrives comfortably with who they love, wearing what they love — the HRC never falters in supporting the LGBTQ+ community that it fights for in a non-performative way. As members of CIC, my team and I know what it’s like to volunteer and feel unappreciated and unsupported, so the way that the HRC treated us meant a lot to us.
Upon leaving, we were showered with hugs and free HRC merchandise. We left lighter than we had arrived, like we had grown wings just by being in the presence of such warm people. It may sound dramatic, but it’s the only way to describe the feeling inside of us as we left the hotel, promising to return next year.