imageWhat’s it like to be in a room full of LGBT activists and pro-gay elected officials and political powerbrokers? You have a chance on Thursday with Georgia Equality. You’ll have a shot at Lady Gaga memorabilia, too.

As part of the Stonewall Week slate of events, the statewide gay rights lobby hosts its annual Evening for Equality on Thursday, an event that provides a refreshing respite from the harsh, not-so-gay-friendly realities of Georgia politics by hosting scores of elected officials, behind-the-scenes political players and boldface names from across the city as they mingle with LGBT activists. Cocktails for a cause, indeed.

But this year’s event offers a fresh take on the seventh rendition of the event: It’s shifted to its largest venue yet with the Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center, offers a sit-down dinner, and guests can take part in a silent auction. You might think that such an event would offer stuffy items at its auction, but not so: Count signed memorabilia from such notables as Elton John, Martina Navratilova and Lady Gaga among those that you can snap up for the right price.

Don’t fight over the Gaga, gays.

But lest you are left with the impression that Evening for Equality is only for back-slapping and political posturing, the event also honors four people who have worked on our side in the equality movement:

Bill Nigut, Phillip Rush Community Builder Award. Bill Nigut is the Southeast Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League, an international organization dedicated to fighting the bigotry toward Jewish people and securing justice and fair treatment for all.  Throughout his career in nonprofit advocacy and journalism, Bill has been a vocal and dedicated ally to the LGBT community.

Johnny Fambro, Guiding Star Award. Johnny Fambro has been a leader in the fight for equality and the fight against HIV/AIDS in Macon and throughout Central Georgia for nearly three decades.  As the executive director for the Central City AIDS Network and The Rainbow Center since the mid-1980’s, Johnny has worked diligently to ensure that people living with HIV have access to housing and support services throughout Central Georgia.

State Representative Karla Drenner (top photo), Champion for Equality Award.  Now serving her sixth term, Rep. Drenner was the first openly LGBT person elected to the Georgia General Assembly.  Over the past decade, Karla has used her position to advance equality for all Georgians and is the lead sponsor of the recently introduced State Fair Employment Practices Act which will ensure that all employees of the State of Georgia will be protected against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Olivia Long, Allen Thornell Political Advancement Award.  Olivia Long has served as the Executive Director of AIDS Athens since 2007.  Since that time she has worked to stabilize and expand the organization to meet the needs of people living with HIV in the 10-county Northeast Georgia Health District area. Over the past two years, Olivia has led efforts to increase AIDS Athens efforts to effectively advocate for funding and policies.  She also serves on the board of directors of UGA’s LGBT Resource Center.

image“This year the board of directors has chosen to honor the contributions of some amazing individuals,” Jeff Graham (bottom photo), Georgia Equality’s executive director, says in a prepared statement. “Each of these recipients has a proven track record of unwavering support for the LGBT community.” 

“This month, as we commemorate 30 years of the AIDS epidemic, we felt it was also appropriate to recognize the specific contributions of people like Olivia Long and Johnny Fambro who have also worked tirelessly to ensure that all people living with HIV/AIDS receive the care and support that they need,” Graham adds.

Tickets for the event range in price from $75 to $250, but you’ll need to hurry: The registration deadline is Monday, June 20 at noon.

Funds from the event will support Georgia Equality’s efforts to implement policies that ensure safe schools for LGBT students, increase HIV funding and services through the Georgia HIV Advocacy Network and tackle workplace discrimination through the Georgia Fair Employment Practices.

Last year, City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, the event’s honorary host, told attendees (view photos) that Atlanta “is built on a diversity of voices.” Ken Britt, who works with local and national LGBT groups, received the Phillip Rush Community Builder Award; retiring Fulton County Commissioner Nancy Boxill received the Guiding Star Award; leaders of the Georgia Safe Schools Coalition were awarded with the Champions for Equality Award; and state Rep. Mike Jacobs home the inaugural Allen Thornell Political Advancement Award.

In 2009, City Council President Lisa Borders was on hand as Georgia Equality honored (view photos) Cindy Abel and Paul Horning, past board chairs of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Victory Campaign Fund; Ronald Moore, who worked with several local LGBT groups, including Project Open Hand, Georgia Equality and Out & Equal; Atlanta PFLAG’s Safe Schools Initiative; and state Rep. Simone Bell.