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Michael Barnes

Human Rights Campaign Austin Gala and Marriage Equality

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Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant, recently wed, at the Human Rights Campaign Austin Gala.

Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant, recently wed, at the Human Rights Campaign Austin Gala.

Next year, the frontrunners for the Bettie Naylor Visibility Awards, given out by the Human Rights Campaign, will likely be Sarah Goodfriend and her wife, Suzanne Bryant. Last week, Texas granted its first and — so far — only gay marriage license to the Austin couple.

Three days later, there they were, certificate in hand, at the Human Rights Campaign Gala on the third floor of the sparkling new JW Marriott Hotel, still grinning like the luckiest women in the world. Both are longtime activists for marriage equality and other human rights. Personally, attorney Bryant has helped many couples, including Kip and I, navigate the legal shoals of partnership and marriage.

(I failed to ask if the certificate was a copy. The original — already an historical document — should be kept in a very safe place.)

HRC 2Bryant and Goodfriend were the surprise stars of the gala, but hardly the only ones. Winning the Naylor this year were dear friends Steven Tomlinson and Eugene Sepulveda, who each made compelling speeches about how much family and community have influenced their civic, business, educational, political, philanthropic and spiritual leadership.

Honored as straight allies were relative newcomers Sandra and Walter Wilkie, transplants from New York, who have already made a big impact locally. Dressed in an “inventor’s jacket,” Walter Wilkie related that wearing his HRC button all over the country has sparked beneficial conversations with gay and straight strangers.

Celinda Garza and Celia Israel at Human Rights Campaign Austin Gala.

Celinda Garza and Celia Israel at Human Rights Campaign Austin Gala.

Actress and writer Maria Bello, the evening’s Equality Award winner, spoke about her upcoming book, her rejection of traditional labels and her fondness for the word “whatever” instead. Fred Sainz, part of the HRC’s national leadership, gave a rousing speech about building on recent political wins. Always self-deprecating State Senator Kirk Watson nailed the emcee assignment for the evening. Among the other political notables present: U.S. Congressmen Joaquin Castro and Lloyd Doggett, State Rep. Celia Israel, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Mayor Steve Adler, who issued the most extravagant municipal proclamation I’ve ever heard in order to applaud his friends Tomlinson and Sepulveda.

Jonathan Fordyce and Phillip Friesen at Human Rights Campaign Dinner.

Jonathan Fordyce and Phillip Friesen at Human Rights Campaign Dinner.

The evening ran a bit long, but guests didn’t seem to mind. There was much to celebrate. How did the JW do? Freshman service glitches were inevitable, but the Lone Star Ballroom served this 600-seat party quite well. I peeked into the other facilities, including the Grand Ballroom upstairs, which will give Hilton Austin and Hyatt Regency Austin a run for their money in the 1,000-seat range.