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ENCF Gala Attracts Local and National Leaders for 'Evening of 'Engagement'

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (Nov. 22, 2014) -- More than 400 supporters of the Equality NC Foundation gathered in Greensboro on Saturday evening for the statewide organization’s 2014 Equality Gala.

The annual event, held each November, attracts leaders and dignitaries from across the state and nation to raise funds for the Equality NC Foundation (ENCF), the state’s oldest and largest LGBT rights organization.

Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan welcomed the capacity crowd as the Carolina-inspired dinner opened. Vaughan spoke passionately of her work with and appreciation for Equality NC and its efforts to move marriage equality forward in the state. She added that she was proud of many of the state's North Carolina's registers of deeds, specifically highlighting the work of Guilford County's Jeff Thigpen, for their pro-equality efforts during the fight for the freedom to marry in North Carolina.

Following Mayor Vaughan's remarks, Equality NC Foundation Executive Director Chris Sgro invited Thigpen to the stage for special recognitions of their work, as well as the work of Drew Reisinger in Buncombe County, to keep county offices open and tirelessly assist same-sex couples on "day one" of marriage equality in North Carolina.

Vaughan, Thigpen, and Riddick were joined by nearly 30 electeds and other politicians in attendance Saturday night, including outgoing openly-gay State Rep. Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford), Clay Aiken, an openly-gay former candidate for North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District, and U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, whose support for the LGBT community took center stage during her recent campaign for re-election to Congress.

ENCF also presented four awards at the event on Saturday. Raleigh’s Kelly Spaulding was honored with the 2014 Jamie Kirk Hahn Ally Award for her outstanding work on the board of the LGBT Center of Raleigh. Executive Director Rodney Tucker accepted the 2014 Organization of the Year Award for Charlotte's Time Out Youth, honoring the group’s work in promoting visibility and public support and education for LGBT Youth in North Carolina. Alex Fisher, daughter of Rep. Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe), and her fiance Ethan Johnstone, a transgender activist, accepted the 2014 Legislative Leadership Award. Greensboro's Linda and Mac Stroupe received ENCF's legacy award, the 2014 Bob Page Equality Champion Award, for their lifetime of work to make PFLAG a statewide force for LGBT support.

Amid the award presentations, ENCF Executive Director Chris Sgro previewed the organization's campaigns for 2015, calling on supporters in the room to take full advantage of the evening event's 2014 theme, "Get Engaged, North Carolina."

"You may already be married, but tonight we're asking you to get engaged...in the battles ahead, to help fund what we believe is a winning strategy for tomorrow, and become married to the idea that together we can finally build a lasting state of equality for ourselves, our neighbors, and our children," said Sgro.

Sgro was followed by special remarks from LGBT activist Kristin Beck, whose experience as the first openly transgender former U.S. Navy SEAL inspired audiences to "get in the game" and get more involved in the ongoing fight for full LGBT equality. "If not you, who?" Beck chanted.

Beck was followed shortly thereafter by 2014 Equality Gala keynote speaker Wade Davis, a former NFL star and current executive director of You Can Play Project, a non-profit that tackles discrimination in all sports. Davis stirred the crowd with the night's inspiring closing remarks, sharing his own painful coming out story as a Southerner and former professional athlete, and the notion of 'fictive kinship' as a means for LGBT people to find family, community, and a sense of solidarity in the places we call home.

"The idea behind fictive kinship is that we're all brothers and sisters...and that it's our responsibility to take care of everyone else," said Davis. "We can easily name whose feet are on our necks, but we need to focus on whose necks our feet are standing on...and use whatever privilege we have to make others feel safe."

ENCF Gala organizers reported successes in fundraising and support for its 8th annual event in North Carolina, raising tens of thousands of dollars for statewide LGBT engagement efforts in 2015, including education around a new session of legislative work, transgender and youth-focused initiatives, and an all-new conference slated for Spring.

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