HRC Austin honoree, celebrity for 2017 Gala announced; event is Jan. 28

Theme ‘Equality Forward’ more relevant than ever

Celebrating its 22nd year, the Human Rights Campaign Austin’s annual Gala is one of the most successful in the country, raising record funding to support civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. This year’s black-tie Gala will be held at the J.W. Marriott on Saturday, January 28, at 7 p.m., with approximately 700 people expected to attend.

Longtime local LGBT rights activist Ceci Bulaong Gratias will receive the 2017 Bettie Naylor Visibility Award at the event. Gratias has been involved for nearly every significant LGBT-focused organization in Austin, including as the first full-time salaried president and CEO of the Austin Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and as a volunteer for OutYouth, Allgo, Queerbomb, HRC Austin, and the National Lesbian & Gay Chamber of Commerce. In an article about Gratias last year, the Austin Chronicle said: “We challenge any local activist to match that range.”

Melora Hardin has been announced as the celebrity guest speaker for the Gala. Hardin was recently seen as Tammy Cashman in the Golden Globe Winning Amazon hit series Transparent, for which she was nominated for an Emmy in 2016. Hardin has been acting professionally since childhood and is best known as Jan on The Office, however on any given day you can see her on re-runs of Friends, Scandal, Magnum P.I., Murder She Wrote, Love Boat, Monk, Little House On The Prairie… to name a few. Feature films include 17 Again, 27 Dresses, The Hannah Montana Movie, and YOU (which she also directed) and she just completed starring in the first one woman movie, Golden Vanity.

According to Gala co-chair Matt Smith, the event’s theme “Equality Forward” is especially relevant for 2017.

“After momentous progress in 2015, we’ve seen our detractors strive to chip away at our hard-fought rights and steps toward full equality,” Smith says. “This is even more evident as we contemplate the Trump administration and one of the most anti-LGBT party platforms in history.”

While many LGBT community members have seen their lives improve dramatically the past few years, there are an equal number who can’t enjoy equal rights because they have no legal protections, Smith says.

“This year will go down in history as the deadliest on record for trans people—as many as 23 trans individuals were murdered in just the first 10 months of 2016. ‘Equality Forward’ is a call to not be complacent in our victories or to leave the rest of our community behind. It is a battle cry to protect the rights we fought for decades to achieve, to fight hate in every corner of the country and the world, and to push forward to achieve full equality for ALL LGBTQ people.”

National honorees, entertainment, and additional speakers to be announced at a later date.

A few tickets are still available to the Gala, which sells out every year. Tickets are $300 and can be purchased online at

Local sponsors of the Gala to date include Roscoe Properties, BBVA Compass, Deloitte, Women Partners in Health, Hotel San Jose, and KUT/KUTX.