June 7, 2011 at 3:38 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Victory Fund to honor GOP senator at fundraiser

Sen. Susan Collins (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund has selected a Republican U.S. senator to honor with an award for her work last year in building GOP support for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

The Victory Fund will award Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) with the 2011 Gay & Lesbian Leadership Award at the event, which will take place Oct. 5 in D.C.

Denis Dison, a Victory Fund spokesperson, confirmed Collins would be present at the event, the 11th annual Gay & Lesbian Leadership Awards.

Dison said his organization wanted to honor Collins primarily because of her role in passing legislation allowing for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“It’s primarily because of her leadership — especially leadership on the Republican side of the aisle — on repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,'” Dison said.

Last year, after several filibusters succeeded in preventing defense budget legislation with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language from coming to the Senate floor, Collins co-introduced a standalone bill with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) to repeal the military’s gay ban, which was passed by the Senate and sent to President Obama for his signature.

Along with Collins, several Republicans voted in favor of the bill once it reached the Senate floor. Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Scott Brown (R-Mass), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) voted for final passage as well as former Sens. George Voinovich of Ohio and John Ensign of Nevada.

Kevin Kelley, a Collins spokesperson, said his boss is “honored” to receive the recognition from the Victory Fund for her work in “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“She was pleased to work closely with Sen. Lieberman on this historic legislation,” Kelley said. “She believes that we should welcome the service of any qualified individual who is willing and capable of serving our country.”

The Victory Fund’s decision to give Collins an award marks a change from last year’s event when the organization honored then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. During the event, gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) drew on highly partisan language in his introduction of Pelosi.

“If there is a gay or lesbian or transgender person who purports to be committed to our being treated fairly who doesn’t vote on Nov. 2 to keep Nancy Pelosi in the position she’s in, then shame on them,” Frank said.

But Dison dismissed the suggestion that the Victory Fund decided to honor a Republican this year to balance out Democratic partisanship at the event last year.

“Congressman Frank always speaks for himself at these events,” Dison said. “We are a non-partisan organization, and when we have the opportunity to thank Republicans who have worked for LGBT equality, we should take it. Clearly, Sen. Collins was — along with Sen. Lieberman — really at the center of this fight at the end of last year when it was obviously getting very tense. We wanted to honor her for that and she agreed to accept the award.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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