The Black Tie Dinner is the country’s largest fundraiser for LGBT and human rights organizations, having raised $14 million since 1982. This year, more than 3,000 people survived the party—just barely.

It started with the four pre-event receptions. At the last reception, C&W singer Chely Wright and Broadway’s Gavin Creel posed with boldface types. Like a protective papa, Mitchell Gold chastised photographers: “Only two flashes!” Over to the side stood a striking Marine in full dress uniform. A statement about “Don’t ask, don’t tell”? Nope, he was Wright’s brother, Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Christopher Wright. And the common denominator for all the receptions: booze. Grey Goose Vodka cocktails, Moët & Chandon Champagne, beer, wine. At the bar, on trays, everywhere.

Following the receptions, the silent auction looked like a massive maitre d’ convention. There were a few exceptions, including drag diva Messy Panocha and Mike Larsen in his natty kilt. Navigating the aisles proved challenging, but drinks were never out of reach.

Promptly at 7, the doors of the Sheraton Dallas Hotel’s Lone Star Ballroom opened, and the thousands settled in for dinner. Or, rather, to wait for dinner. Servers brought drinks around. Creel performed with the Turtle Creek Chorale. Then Ron Guillard and Nan Arnold welcomed everyone and introduced a video and the first speakers.

By this time, the salad course was a done deal. And as Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin addressed the room, servers took more drink orders as the bread baskets were passed. More speakers took to the stage.

A small black box was spotted on the table wrapped in a ribbon. Could it be food? Someone opened it and passed it around. Enclosed were “Stand Strong” buttons, the evening’s theme and an impossible order to follow given the crowd’s compromised state brought on by hunger and libations. Servers made another drink-order sweep of the tables. Guests divvied up the remaining rolls like people adrift in lifeboats.

Finally Baldwin thanked all, and the 2010 sponsors credits started rolling. And they continued to roll, each name read by an announcer. At long last came an admonition over the PA: “You must be seated to be served.” Never before have more than 3,000 tushes sat so firmly in place.

Scene2 photography by Jeanne Prejean