There are plenty of ways to be socially responsible. Everyone wants to make the world as they see it a better place. Some people prefer to use bumper stickers, others prefer to stand at the border and scream hateful words at refugee children. Fortunately, for the LGBTQ community in Myrtle Beach, supporting the cause for equality just became a little bit easier. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Terry Livingston and Steve Gamble, their local happy hour event for the LGBTQ community is now an official South Carolina Non-Profit Corporation.
The First Friday Happy Hour group began in October 2006 with the simple goal of offering a new networking opportunity for LGBTQ people in the Myrtle Beach area. The concept was to allow the gay community to become more connected to the mainstream business community and to create a positive presence there. That is exactly what the group has accomplished. In a city where hospitality is the mainstay of the economy, First Friday Happy Hour soon became the hot ticket that everyone wanted to host.
Modeled on a similar event in Charlotte, N.C., the group encompasses a broad cross-section of the LGBTQ community. Some of the members use the events to wrap up a busy week at the office while others use it to kick off their weekends in the local nightclubs.
In the beginning, First Friday Happy Hour originally consisted of gay men and their straight allies, but in 2008, local women discovered the group. They began to invite their friends to the events and the membership soon doubled. During the span of the last two years, the average attendance at the regular events has been about 100 people. That number has made the venue choices a bit more challenging but it has also made the group tremendously popular with the owners of local venues.
Cindy Debus and Jo Whinnery, who responded to a question via social media said, “First Friday Happy Hour has made a huge difference to us. We now have a family and a community. Each event we attend enlarges as new people join us. We are truly grateful to Terry Livingston and Steve Gamble for taking time from their busy lives to start this and continue to ensure it continues.”
That seems to be the consensus of the folks that you meet at these events. I found the group about two years ago when I moved to the area. In the beginning, it can be somewhat daunting to attend a local event that identifies everyone by association as a member of the LGBTQ community but all of that changes once you experience the incredible hospitality of the local businesses.
Purchasing power and a positive presence go a very long way when it comes to event planning in the local community. For that reason, the group has recently been re-branded as Takeover Grand Strand. The happy hour events still happen on the first Fridays of most months but now the group has ventured into additional events such as the Theater of the Republic productions in Conway and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans baseball games.
In consideration of the recent progress made by both the national and local LGBTQ communities, Livingston and Gamble decided that the group needed to move forward and become an official South Carolina non-profit corporation. That happened on July 11. The next move for the group will be to obtain official 501 (c) (3) status from the IRS.
With a new status, comes a new mission statement for the group: “Advancing acceptance of the Grand Strand LGBT community through increased visibility.” This is essentially what the group has been doing for the last eight years but now, it’s official.
This could not be more relevant for the Takeover Grand Strand organization. On July 28, while this article was being written, the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va. issued a ruling on marriage equality. By a margin of 2-1 the court ruled that gay men and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry that is paramount to state marriage laws. This ruling affirms a district judge's decision rendered in February. The jurisdiction of this court covers South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia.
Judge Henry Floyd, who was originally appointed by President George W. Bush, stated: “We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable. However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws."
For that reason, the already planned Takeover Grand Strand event for this Friday (Aug. 1) will become an official celebration of marriage equality. What could be better than practicing social responsibility by downing your favorite cocktail? See you there.
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