SAN DIEGO -- Over 250 community members came together Saturday evening in a beautifully transformed San Diego Hall of Champions for Equality California's (EQCA) 2011 San Diego Equality Awards.
The fundraiser took in $116,830, said Vaishalee Raja, EQCA communications director.
The organization also presented Equality Awards to Superior Court Judge Victoria Kolakowski and San Diego City Councilmember Todd Gloria for their contributions in the fight for LGBT equality.
After socializing over cocktails and appetizers in the building's lobby, guests went to their tables for dinner and the presentation. Among the crowd of attendees, which included philanthropists, professionals and community leaders, were a number of elected officials such as state Sen. Christine Kehoe, Judge Garry Haehnle and San Diego Unified school board member Kevin Beiser.
As the program opened, event co-chairs Scott Paine, Vincent Pompei and Claire Stafford welcomed attendees and talked about how far the organization has come since it was formed in 1998.
Stafford noted that the first Equality Awards were held in San Diego in 2007 at a private home with just over 30 people in attendance.
"Look at us now," Stafford enthusiastically said.
Long-time EQCA supporter Tom Maddox also spoke to the crowd and explained why he supports the organization's work.
"I want to help shape a world where all people are equal," Maddox said as he discussed all of the legislative successes EQCA has had.
Maddox also spoke about the impact that words and terminology have on people.
"Words matter," Maddox said. "It is comforting that now when we introduce ourselves as husbands or partners, people understand what that means. But words like faggot and queer hurt at any age.
"EQCA is working hard every day to create change so that LGBT people know that they are of value."
Maddox pledged $10,000 to EQCA and encouraged the audience to give as well.
Maddox then introduced Jim Carroll, EQCA's interim executive director, who briefly spoke about the organization's legislative victories of the past year and thanked participants for their support.
Carroll also thanked the many sponsors who support the work of EQCA, including Sempra Energy and AT&T.
A video promoting AT&T's services, charity and history, set to Lady Gaga's "Telephone" song, was then played.
Judge Haehnle presented Judge Kolakowski with her award. In his remarks, he noted that openly gay Judge David Rubin paved the way for him to be elected as an openly gay judge.
"Like David Rubin did for me, you have opened doors for many other people Vicky," Haehnle said to Kolakowski.
Kolakowski, who made history last year by becoming the nation's first openly transgender judge, has been a longtime advocate for LGBT equality, including previous service on the boards of the Transgender Law Center and EQCA.
"If it had not been for the hard work of EQCA, I wouldn't be standing here today as a Superior Court judge," Kolakowski said.
"Transgender people are chronically unemployed and underemployed," she said. "I hope [employers] see that somebody like me might be a fit for them. We are just as capable of doing these jobs as anyone else - being trans doesn't affect our ability to have sound judgement and do our jobs."
Human rights activist Ron DeHarte, who attended the event, agreed with Haehnle's remarks about Kolakowski.
"I was thrilled to see Hon. Victoria Kolakoswki recognized," DeHarte said. "As the nation's first openly transgender Superior Court judge, I think Victoria will open the doors for many. She’s an inspiration that will impact the lives of so many people. I was proud to see EQCA support her campaign and proud to see her honored."
Following Kolakowski, Kehoe presented Gloria with his award.
Kehoe held Gloria's District 3 City Council seat from 1993 to 2000 and discussed Gloria's deep roots in the district.
"Todd is a third-generation resident of District 3 and his love for the district is rooted in that," Kehoe said.
EQCA selected Gloria for the award because of his work to increase protections and housing opportunities for LGBT people. The organization noted that Gloria introduced an equal benefits ordinance last year that requires city contractors to offer their employees domestic partner benefits. The City Council approved the bill with unanimous support.
In his acceptance speech, Gloria thanked the community for their support and thanked his fellow City Council members for their regular and unanimous support of many LGBT bills and resolutions.
After the awards ceremony, local theatrical circus duo Mango & Dango entertained the crowd.
The evening ended with an after-party and dessert reception in the lower level of the Hall of Champions.
Chris Patrick, director of PR & Marketing for Urban Mo's, which was one of the event's table sponsors, said the EQCA event is one of the gala events he most enjoys attending.
"I think the EQCA team does a really great job putting on an awards gala," Patrick said. "I was well informed about the work the organization has done and is doing, was entertained, and go to enjoy a few beverages on the house, which is always appreciated."
Patrick said he feels privileged to work for a company that supports the work of EQCA. "I was so proud to be able to have a seat at a table at this event, and be around so many like-minded people who appreciate the work of EQCA, like the company I work for and I do."
Carroll and his team said they were pleased with the event.
"Last weekend we were thrilled to honor two incredible leaders for their contributions to the fight for LGBT equality – Judge Vicky Kolakowski and Todd Gloria,” Carroll said. “We are grateful to everyone who attended the event and supported Equality California, as well as our generous sponsors for helping ensure that we are able to continue our mission to achieve full equality for all LGBT Californians."
EQCA annually hosts Equality Awards events in San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, Los Angeles and Palm Springs. The next event will be held May 16 at The Citizen Hotel in Sacramento.
For more information about EQCA, click HERE.