Lynn Yeldell knows what a good party is all about. She is, after all, a New Orleans native.
But there are parties, and then there are parties, and since the fall, Yeldell has been be focused on making the 2011 Human Rights Campaign Gala into an event that she hopes will draw support, both financial and emotional, for the HRC’s work.
Yeldell stepped into her role as co-chair of the 2011 gala no stranger to the HRC or its mission. She became involved with the nonprofit in the late 90s when she still lived in New Orleans and has been involved with it now for more than a decade.
“It appealed to my sensibilities that it’s a national organization and the nation’s largest LGBT lobbying organization,” Yeldell said. “I’m a pretty middle of the road person, and with my financial background, I can appreciate being fiscally conservative. But I don’t understand how and where we started getting government in people’s bedrooms. I will give on the fiscal conservative part, but I will not budge on how social issues have been moved to the forefront of the national conversation.”
Yeldell said the HRC galas appealed to her when she first came out, at 28, as social events and for the dialogue they generated.
The annual gala is one of the largest fundraising events the HRC puts on. That money goes to serious causes–lobbying on the national level to repeal “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” and pass the “Employment Non-Discrimination Act,” for instance, or in key political races. But Yeldell’s goal is to keep this year’s gala light on education and very heavy on celebrating the victories.
And there are plenty of victories to be celebrated.
“You can get married in Iowa. I mean, Iowa!,” Yeldell exclaimed. The work of the HRC also includes constant lobbying– a word Yeldell conceded is considered dirty but also a necessary tool in today’s political climate. Lobbying groups like Focus on the Family–a conservative Christian group whose leadership openly opposes gay marriage–have budgets that dwarf that of the HRC. Focus on the Family also has an estimated two million members and supporters, compared with HRC’s approximately 750,000, a disparity the HRC’s leadership uses as a call to action.
All the same, Yeldell said she hopes the HRC’s battle for basic rights will someday be won and the group will become unnecessary.
“But when we have (other) organizations using the marriage debate to raise money and drive conservative Americans to the polls out of fear. the HRC is a necessary and logical counterpoint that has to be in the halls of congress dispelling the myths.”
But getting back to that party–Yeldell said while it does raise money, it also gives HRC’s supporters a chance to come together and talk about the good work being done. One of the best practices the Human rights Campaign’s New Orleans gala used that Yeldell said she wants to bring to Austin ’s gala is the sense that the party was something akin to a gay prom.
This year she hopes to raise the experience to a new level. The gala will be at the Four Seasons, and since it’s taking place on Feb. 12, love is a major theme.
“It’s almost like an invitation to the city as a whole that it’s your gala, and it’s being put on your behalf,” Yeldell said. “We’re having people write love letters back to the Human Rights Campaign–it’s a national organization, but each day, we see examples of how their work affects Austinites.”
Moving it from its former time during South By Southwest to February will hopefully allow more straight allies to attend, as well.
For Yeldell, it’s also a chance to show her love for her new hometown. She attended business school at UT Austin in the early 90s, and although she moved back to new Orleans, she said she knew she would return to Austin.
Coming out in New Orleans was not entirely easy, she said. While it has a laid-back, “laissez les bons temps roulez” (let the good times roll) character, New Orleans also has an old-guard society that leans conservative. Yeldell admitted she fought it at first.
“I was worried about my parents, and it was my perception of my family that delayed me,” Yeldell say about coming out in her late 20s. “My father, who I thought would have a huge problem with it–it was over in a phone call. For a conservative, republican, retired oil-and-gas executive, he was awesome. My mom struggled with it at first, but she worked through it very quickly.”
It took 13 years and a Hurricane–Katrina–to bring Yeldell back to Austin , but now that she’s here she’s putting down roots. Austin appeals to her, she said, because the city knows how to play hard and work hard.
“I love the great restaurants, live music and bars, and also the premiere running trails and outdoor events,” Yeldell said. “In New Orleans there’s an excess of nightlife, but no trails– that anyone could find.”
The fact that Austin ’s LGBT community is so integrated into the city is also appealing, Yeldell said.
“We’re kind of in every neighborhood, and that helps continue the dialogue that as families and individuals, we’re not that different than our neighbor. Austin ’s so open because of its populace–or is it the diversity of its populace that makes Austin open?”
Story by Kate Harrington
Photos by Michael Thad Carter
L Style G Style – Storyteller of the Austin LBGT Community.