WASHINGTON – More than 1,300 guests packed the National Building Museum on Saturday as the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) held its 19th annual National Dinner – Making History, Moving Forward.
Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s “Hardball” and NBC’s “The Chris Matthews Show,” headlined the evening as master of ceremonies, while Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and former Rep. Patrick Murphy served as co-chairs of the event.
The Anna M. Curren Service Award, which recognizes the outstanding contributions and extraordinary service of those who fight for full equality in the military, was presented to House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who provided the event’s keynote address.
“I’m honored to receive this award from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. I was proud to help repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’—a step that makes our military stronger by allowing for open service by patriotic gay Americans, who no longer have to lie about who they are in order to wear our nation’s uniform. But our work isn’t done; now, it’s our responsibility to monitor repeal and see that it is implemented quickly, fairly, and professionally,” Hoyer saod.
“Whip Hoyer’s determination to do what’s right for all service members, as well as his knowledge of the House of Representatives, is what moved ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal legislation through the House in December and illustrates why we are proud to give him this year’s Service Award,” SLDN executive director Aubrey Sarvis said. “His leadership and dedication at the twelfth hour literally turned the tide in the fight for open service.”
SLDN also honored international singer-songwriter Lady Gaga, presenting her with the Randy Shilts Visibility Award. Named for award-winning author, the award recognizes accomplishments in bringing the plight of LGBT service personnel to the public’s attention.
SLDN clients, including former Air Force Major Mike Almy, former Air Force Staff Sergeant David Hall, and former Army Sergeant First Class Stacy Vasquez – who escorted Lady Gaga at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) in September – accepted the award on her behalf as she delivered remarks via pre-recorded video.
Partnering with SLDN, Lady Gaga dramatically raised the profile of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) when she urged the Senate to repeal this law throughout 2010, culminating with her appearance on the VMAs, and going to Maine on Sept. 20 to call for DADT repeal.
“Lady Gaga’s outspoken commitment to end ‘Don’t Ask’ discrimination helped to renew the call for repeal on the national stage and emboldened millions of young people to get engaged, take action, and play a decisive role in repealing this bad law,” said Zoe Dunning, retired Navy commander and SLDN board co-chair. “We are profoundly grateful to Lady Gaga for her passion and tireless involvement.”
Sarvis thanked attendees for their support and action during the fight to pass repeal legislation in 2010, but warned that the goal of achieving full equality for all service members is far from finished.
“Our work is not done until ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is fully repealed, legally married service members receive the same benefits and family services as their straight comrades, and federal statutes that prevent pay parity are changed,” Sarvis said. “Our work is only done when lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender service members, willing to fight and die for this country, are treated equally under the law.”
Sarvis vowed to keep up the fight for former service members discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” who seek to return to their former positions and renewed the SLDN call for President Obama to issue an executive order prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in the armed forces.
Other special guests included Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, Doug Wilson; Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, and Barney Frank, D-Mass.; and Colorado State Democratic Chairman Rick Palacio.
The Rock Creek Singers, an ensemble of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. (GMCW), also performed a special tribute to all men and women in uniform.