An estimated 1,200 people attended a fund-raising dinner last night for the Human Rights Campaign Fund, a national gay rights group, celebrating what organization officials say has been its most successful year.

In contrast with last year's event, where the specter of AIDS cast a sobering and unwelcome shadow, the mood at the seventh annual black-tie dinner at the Washington Sheraton Hotel was upbeat. The theme of the gathering, "Fast Forward," symbolized what group leaders said were the rapid advances being made by members of the gay rights movement in dealing with Congress and the White House.

"This is really a celebration of how far we've come," said Timothy I. McFeeley, executive director of the fund. The legislative progress achieved by the organization in 1990 is unprecedented, McFeeley said.

McFeeley pointed to three pieces of legislation that the fund was instrumental in supporting: the Federal Hate Crimes Statistics Act, which specifically includes gay people; the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, including its protections for people with AIDS and AIDS-related illnesses; and the passage of the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act, which authorizes $850 million a year for the care of AIDS patients.

Until the passage of the Ryan White Act {named after the Indiana boy who died of AIDS after contracting it through a blood transfusion}, federal money had been allocated for research but not directly for care of AIDS patients, McFeeley said.

McFeeley and others pointed out that President Bush invited members of the Human Rights Campaign Fund to the White House for the signing of the Hate Crimes bill and the Americans with Disabilities Act, marking the only times that openly gay Americans have been invited to official bill-signing ceremonies.

McFeeley credited the legislative successes to increasingly sophisticated political lobbying and increased participation by gay people in the political process.

"When Congress people in Birmingham, Ala., and Schenectady, N.Y., hear that there are gay people in their district concerned about these issues, we get a response," McFeeley said.

In addition, he said, his group's political action committee contributed a total of $525,000 to political candidates in 1989 and 1990. He said it is the most that the organization has disbursed in a comparable period.

"In terms of status relative to other PACs, we've moved way up," McFeeley said.

The keynote address was given by Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.), the first Republican cosponsor of the federal Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights Bill. She compared the gay rights breakthroughs to the tumbling of the Berlin Wall and the spread of democratic movements in Eastern and Central Europe.

Tickets for the dinner ranged from $175 to $300, and the event was expected to raise $200,000.

Among those at the dinner were Maurice T. Turner Jr., Republican candidate for D.C. mayor; Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Gerry Studds (R-Mass.), two openly gay members of Congress; Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); and D.C. Council members Hilda H.M. Mason (Statehood-At Large) and Jim Nathanson (D-Ward 3).