In many ways, the Dallas Historical Society’s 39th Awards For Excellence overcame historic challenges to take place. First, there was the postponement of the original November 2020 date due to the pandemic and the plan to hold an evening event the following February in the DHS’s beautifully renovated home at Fair Park’s Hall of State. Then just a couple of days before the February get-together was to have taken place, the mother-of-all-cold-shoulders hit and the Hall of State took a major hit with $3M worth of water damage. By this time, the 39th Awardees were probably wondering if it was ever gonna happen. But it did with DHS Executive Director Karl Chiao looking like a very relieved man and Presenting Sponsor Pegasus Bank loyally staying on board through it all.
After streamlining its Awards of Excellence Luncheon in 2019 by dropping the VIP reception in the Fairmont’s Pyramid or Venetian rooms, the DHS decided to count the patron party at the now dry and freshly renovated Hall of State on Tuesday, October 27, as the VIP-er for its Awards of Excellence Luncheon fundraiser. And instead of holding the awards presentation in the Fairmont’s upstairs Regency Ballroom, Event Co-Chairs Mary Suhm and Roy Washburne opted to stay ground level in the International Ballroom.
As guests like Craig Holcomb and Hector Garcia, Judy Kelly, Rene Pederson, Gail Thomas, Stuart Bumpas, Mary Brinegar, Eddie Garcia, Tom Dunning, Ben Leal, Dr. Michael Horne, Abby Williams, Sarah Scholl, Margaret Hirsh, Michael Iyescas, Taylor Armstrong, Nancy Shutt, Kathleen Gibson, Michael Hinojosa, Susana Cordova, Holt Haynsworth and Nicholas Sanders gathered in the ballroom’s reception area before the doors opened, for TI Foundation Executive Director Andy Smith it was a déjà vu experience. He had just 24 hours before been at the hotel to receive the Business Council for the Arts’ Obelisk Award for Business Champion for the Arts.
Once the ballroom doors opened, guests discovered a room layout with gathers of table on either side of a large aisle running down the center of the room from the back wall to the stage. It gave all the appearances of perhaps having a band march or a promenade of flags.
But neither was the case. And the result was servers squeezing through herds of tables and balancing trays of plates.
On stage emcee Stewart Thomas explained that Luncheon Co-Chair Washburne would present awards with DHS Board Chair Veletta Lill subbing in for Luncheon Co-Chair Suhm, who was MIA due to having recently broken her leg.
Following remarks by DHS Executive Director Chiao, Pegasus Bank CEO Joe Goyne introduced a well done video on the DHS.
And speaking of videos, organizers had once again had recipients (Arts Leadership Gayle Halperin, Creative Arts Jonathan Norton, Education Catherine LeBlanc, Health and Science Dr. Barbara Baxter, History Nancy McCoy, Humanities Alessandra Comini, Philanthropy Diane Bumpas and Volunteer Community Leadership Rene Martinez) videotape their acceptance speeches and appear briefly onstage to officially receive their award for a photo opp. Unfortunately, Catherine was unable to attend due to illness but her husband Richard LeBlanc accepted for her.
The exception was presentation of the Jubilee History Marker Award to Resource Center CEO Cece Cox, who addressed the guests from the podium. With more than 30 years of advocating for the LGBTQIA+ community, she admitted that while seeming ungracious, she didn’t like awards because they implied a competition.
“However, I am sincerely grateful for this acknowledgment today because I view it as recognizing the beautiful rainbow LGBTQIA+ community that includes the trailblazing work of Resource Center. I have not done or accomplished anything without an army of supporters, friends, angels and guides many of whom are in this room today. And my story exists only because of the many people who have been part of our inspiring history in the queer community in Dallas.
“As I was thinking about the role of the Dallas Historical Society and my remarks today, a question surfaced: ‘Why does history matter?’
“Looking to when I moved to Dallas in 1984 fresh out of college and just realizing that I was a lesbian… and I still am, by the way… our community and our movement’s history was hugely important in helping me understand myself as well as connecting me deeply to this city.
“I was fortunate enough to attend many presentations by the out, loud and proud, self-proclaimed historian of our community Phil Johnson. And that history so deeply impacted me in helping my tribe and influencing my work ever since.
“History roots us in a place so that when the harsh winds blow and batter us… and they surely will… we can draw nourishment from fertile soil of understanding what our tribe has already endured.
“And our LGBTQIA+ community has endured much including the loss of thousands of friends stricken by AIDs at a time when diagnosis equaled a stigma, death and fear.”
Despite having endured challenges including the murders of transgender women and a hostile state that denies protection from discrimination, she felt that the LGBTQIA+ community had done more than endured — it had survived and in many instances thrived.
However, she voiced concerns over two of the “harsh winds” currently bearing down on the LGBTQIA+ tribe.
“Number one, after learning that there were two memoirs written by queer authors, the governor of our state ordered the Texas Education Agency that it needs to investigate criminal action due to availability of pornography in public schools.
“Number two, we now have a brand new law passed by our own Texas legislature in effect that prohibits young transgender athletes from competing in sports as who they are. This is a law designed solely to vilify and segregate transgender students.
“That the rest of the country is looking at Texas and I, for one, am ashamed. But history and the role of the Dallas Historical Society matter because we have more battles to fight — all of us together, not just one community. And we must remain vigilant to protect our hard-won rights and also to do better. We must create an equitable city where Black, Brown, Indigenous and all People of Color are truly invited to the table including persons living at intersections of race, sex and queer identities.
“I believe Dallas can do that… I believe Dallas can do that. I believe that the perseverance and achievements of LGBTQIA+ communities serve as a beacon to help Dallas become its best self. And for that I am incredibly grateful for the recognition and this time to be with each and every one of you today. Thank you.”