Connection and Community HRC Safely Returns to In-Person Events across the Country

When the Human Rights Campaign returned to in-person events this spring, it was immediately clear to all who were in attendance: It’s good to be back in the community, connecting with each other again. Planning safe, in-person events is HRC’s latest pivot in keeping up with the rapidly changing world in relation to the pandemic.

Across the country, HRC’s signature events such as local fundraising dinners are safely returning. Mollie Levin, HRC’s director of events, said that attending local dinners this year has been exciting for staff and communities.

“The virtual events were nice in the interim, but everyone has been excited to be back in-person,” said Levin. “The feeling at our events has been so wonderful,” she said. “People are just so happy to be together.”

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The energy around community events has been palpable, and connecting with people at events like Pride has felt more important than ever, said Zack Hasychak, HRC’s director of membership outreach, who manages HRC’s national Pride program.

“Our first Pride of 2021 was in Minneapolis, and it just felt like the best Pride ever,” said Hasychak. “Everybody was thrilled to be there, and we talked to so many people who were attending their first Pride because they had missed 2020 … It was amazing.”

Besides creating physical space for HRC’s communities to connect, in-person events have also allowed attendees more opportunities to get involved politically.

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Levin said that “with all of the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation across the country trying to erase us, people feel like they need to be together and try and do something positive.”

HRC’s signature events have provided opportunities for attendees to take action in the past, but now, in the face of political attacks against the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups, people are fired up about getting involved, said Levin. From donating to volunteering, she said that communities are “hungry to get involved” and that HRC is happy to provide those avenues.

Hasychak said that people at Pride have also felt an urgency to get involved.

In 2021, at Minneapolis Pride, in response to the murder of George Floyd, we created a huge banner that said ‘Black Lives Matter,’ and gave out stickers for people to write messages of commitment or solidarity to the Black community. The stickers were in the colors of the More Color, More Pride flag, and, at the end of the weekend, we had this huge rainbow banner filled with personal messages. It was powerful.

-Zack Hasychak, HRC’s director of membership outreach

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Hasychak said that the banner was such a success and that Pridegoers enjoyed engaging with it so much that HRC created more. “We created another one that said ‘Black Lives Matter’ in St. Louis, and then we tailored the message in different locations. So, at Miami and Nashville Prides, we created banners that said ‘Protect Trans Kids’ in response to the harmful legislation against transgender youth in those areas. We even created a similar banner for HRC’s dinners in those states, and it’s been incredible to see such a visible display of solidarity,” he said.

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Pride is an important tool for recruiting HRC members — Hasychak and his team are looking forward to rebooting the Pride program and plan to appear at more than 200 Prides in 2022. Amid the excitement and joy at events, HRC has also made sure to prioritize safety.

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HRC dinners have required that all guests and honorees show proof of vaccination. Many events are using QR codes to reduce physical contact between people.

“At dinners, we’ve given attendees the choice to wear stickers in green, red or yellow to signal their comfort level with physical contact,” said Levin. “We know that not everyone is comfortable at in-person events yet, and that’s OK.”

But, Levin said that it has been a joy witnessing unbridled happiness between HRC community members who have been physically separated for the last 2 years.

Volunteers always had a lot of joy at events before the pandemic, but there’s even more now. It’s really wonderful – everyone is just so happy to be back with family.

Mollie Levin, HRC’s director of events
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HRC staff and volunteers worked tenaciously since March 2020 to keep members and supporters feeling connected to each other and to the organization. When COVID shifted people across the globe into their homes, HRC had been in the final stages of planning for the Spring Equality Convention, scheduled for March 20, 2020.

It was a challenge, but HRC made it happen, said Kipp Colvin, HRC’s communities and volunteer relations director. “HRC immediately flipped a 350-person convention into virtual within days,” he said. “And, it was successful.”

As the dust settled from the Equality Convention, HRC began exploring ways to keep communities across the country connected in the face of the pandemic.

“For the past two years, our main goal has been to keep connection and community,” Colvin said.

And, in a time of physical and social isolation, HRC’s volunteers were up for the challenge, creatively adapting their programming to the new virtual reality.

It was really impressive. Leadership was so creative. I mean, we had drag queen story hours, queer bingo – people wanted to be together, and everyone really adapted.

Kipp Colvin, HRC’s communities and volunteer relations director

The Pride program also adjusted their programming, making sure that HRC’s communities could still celebrate the history, resiliency and progress of the LGBTQ+ community, said Hasychak.

“We made sure that people could still celebrate Pride at home with care packages that included things like arts and crafts for kids and Pride decorations for your home – we wanted to keep the spirit of Pride going, even without in-person events,” Hasychak said.

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Besides transforming existing programming into a new format, HRC also launched new initiatives, in response to the pandemic, like Queer to Stay. Created in partnership with SHOWTIME® in 2020, Queer to Stay helps local LGBTQ+ businseses stay afloat with financial assistance in a time of such economic uncertainty.

“The beneficiaries really range – from a Black gay bar in Harlem to a trans and queer-focused gym in Cleveland to a gender-inclusive hair salon in Long Beach to a Black lesbian bar in Mobile – we are excited to enter our third year of that initative,” said Hasychak. “It’s so important to preserve these spaces for our community.”

Colvin said that HRC’s volunteer communities also “met the moment.” “Not only did our existing Steering Committees think outside the box, we even have two new Steering Committees that formed during the pandemic – Jackson, Mississippi, and Western and Central New York, which is incredible,” he said.

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Get Involved

HRC is looking forward to connecting with you at an event in your area — as soon as you feel comfortable to do so.