Tje Austin of The Voice fame, opened with a nice U2 cover of “One”. Then Joe Solmonese, retiring President of the national Human Rights Campaign (HRC), in his last appearance in this role, spoke of Kirk Rice, Senior Development Officer of Major Gifts, who will take up the reins of the Corporate Equality Index jesting, “love him like a brother and treat him like a sister,” and the night was underway.
The Bettie Naylor Award, created to honor its namesake whom Solmonese defines as “a true patriot and American hero,” and in the words of the HRC is “a forward-thinking, equality-minded, shoot from the hips Texas woman who has dedicated her life to fighting for equal rights”; for recipients, this means “using one’s voice to help make change happen and to keep the flame of hope alive,” despite taking an unpopular/unwelcome stance. This year the award goes to Randi Shade and Kayla Shell, who met playing golf and have been a couple now for 10 years—they have two children, Ethan (five) and Emme (three).
In 2008, Shade was the first openly gay woman elected to serve as an Austin City Council member. She worked for Texas Governors Richards and Bush, as Executive Director of the Texas Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service, and during that time she began and managed the AmeriCorps program. She also received an Echoing Green Foundation-Harvard Public Management Fellowship to work for Teach for America in its initial year.
Shell has been with DELL since 1998 in capacities ranging from marketing to e-commerce law and currently serves as Co-Chair of the Executive Advisory Board of Pride, DELL’s LGBT employee resource group; she also served as its Chair for several years. During her time as Chair, DELL became an Out & Equal Workplace Summit sponsor as well as a national sponsor of the HRC.
The HRC Visibility Award this year goes to another female couple, Alisa Weldon and Lynn Yeldell. This award recognizes LGBT individuals “who are living open and honest lives at home, at work and in their greater community.” A native of New Orleans, Yeldell was the first female to be elected as Student Government President at University of Alabama. She moved to Austin in 1991 to pursue an MBA in Entrepreneurship from the University of Texas. From attending her first HRC Gala in 1998, she became an enthusiastic supporter and member of the Board of Governors and Co-Chair of Gala Dinners in Austin and New Orleans. After holding Federal Club Co-Chair, Community Events Co-Chair positions and others, Hurricane Katrina brought her back to Austin, where she began a career at UBS Financial Services as a Financial Advisor.
Weldon is from Friendswood, Texas, where she gave up tennis scholarships to follow her heart to Austin and also study Applied Science and Commercial Art at Austin Community College (ACC). She opened the original Central Market in 1994 and in following years after serving as Regional Art Director was hired by T3 Advertising in 1998, which led to a DELL Small Business account. She then led VoxGroup Marketing & Design as Creative Director and served on boards for OutYouth, aGLIFF (Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival) and Animal Trustees of Austin.
She and Yeldell met over coffee to discuss Sponsorship of aGLIFF, when Yeldell was serving as Board President. Weldon shared her vision with Yeldell for L Style G Style magazine, which the two would later launch together as a couple. L Style G Style is reflective not only of alternative lifestyles but fosters “lady” and “guy” style as well.
Another goal of HRC is to end bullying and reach acceptable levels of pride and honor in the LGBT community.
Speakers Camille Cook and Siri Hutcheson touched on this in their introductory presentation. Fourteen years ago, they were “all about gardening and running a bed and breakfast.” They were married in Massachusetts in 2004, but when Hutcheson was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer, and after three chemo treatments, Camille had to watch Siri suffering in a hospital room with only their “papers” documenting their union to allow her own presence at Siri’s bedside. Because it wasn’t a “safe” hospital, they weren’t treated with the respect they otherwise might have received. Although they spoke with much humor and humility, the reality is that equality for partner recognition is still many legislative battles away.
Through the end of February: “Four Seasons Hotel Austin will donate 10% of your TRIO dinner bill and 10% of your spa bill (excluding products) to HRC when you mention L Style G Style or HRC when making your reservation or upon check-out.”
To support the cause, or for more about HRC, find information online.