More than 400 people turned out Wednesday night at D.C.’s Carnegie Library for the annual Capital Pride Alliance Heroes Gala in which former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and eight LGBT community advocates were honored for their efforts to advance LGBT equality.
The event, which was hosted by the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., was one of a series of Pride-related events scheduled to take place over a 10-day period leading up to the annual Capital Pride Parade on Saturday, June 13, and the annual Pride Festival set for Sunday, June 14 on Pennsylvania Avenue near the U.S. Capitol.
Bernie Delia, president of the Capital Pride Board of Directors, introduced Holder in Delia’s role as both a Capital Pride official and a Justice Department attorney who worked during Holder’s tenure as Attorney General from 2009 to May of this year in the Obama administration.
“His commitment to civil rights has been nothing short of outstanding,” said Delia. “And his commitment to LGBT rights is unmatched among any attorney general.”
Delia presented Holder with Capital Pride’s Paving the Way Award, which the group says is aimed at honoring “those in public life who have shown courage and leadership in helping to advance the cause of LGBT rights.”
“It is a great honor to be here and thank you so much for recognizing me,” Holder told the gathering.
“This is a time in which we can celebrate a great many things,” he said, recounting the Obama administration’s efforts to repeal the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law that banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.
Holder also talked about his and President Obama’s controversial decision to have the Justice Department refuse to defend in court the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
Marriage equality advocates have credited the Justice Department’s refusal to defend DOMA on constitutional grounds with playing an important role in the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to declare the main part of the law unconstitutional, a development that opened the way for courts in more than two-dozen states to allow gays and lesbians to marry.
“This is indeed I think a very hopeful time,” Holder said. “But we should not kid ourselves. Much work really remains to be done,” he said. “Discrimination against the LGBT community is still very real. It is still the basis for wrong-headed policies and for dangerous attitudes.”
With hard work and perseverance, Holder said, and with LGBT rights advocates joining forces with other civil rights causes, including communities of color, full equality for LGBT people and other minorities can be achieved.
“Working together I am really confident we can really make this great nation even greater,” he said.
Following Holder’s remarks, Capital Pride Hero Awards were given to Alexandra Ernst, a longtime fundraiser from D.C. for the Human Rights Campaign; Paul Kawata, executive director of the National Minority AIDS Council; Justin Markiewicz, a member of the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit; Maryland House of Delegates member Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County); and Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop of the Episcopal Church and a nationally recognized advocate for LGBT equality.
Also honored at the Heroes Gala were three local transgender community advocates. Capital Trans Pride Coordinator Holly Goldman received the Bill Miles Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service; Bobbi Strang, an officer and volunteer for a number of local LGBT organizations, and Kaprice Williams, a full-time volunteer at the Casa Ruby community center since the facility opened its doors three years ago, each received the Capital Pride Engendered Sprit Award.
Whitman-Walker Health, the D.C. health care organization with a special outreach to the LGBT community and people with HIV, received the Larry Stansbury Award for Exemplary Contributions to Pride.
In handing the award to Whitman-Walker Executive Director Don Blanchon, Delia noted that Whitman-Walker became the lead sponsor of the city’s LGBT Pride Parade and festival for nearly 10 years beginning in 1997 when the Pride organization experienced financial difficulties.