A sold-out gala honoring veterans, servicemembers and activists in the ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' repeal effort was held Tuesday evening, Sept. 18, with 1,100 attendees boarding New York City's Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, housed largely in the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier.
Barbara Walters of ABC News served as emcee for the evening, which featured the former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen.
Advocates and activists in the nearly two-decades-long effort to lift the ban on out gay service in the armed forces uniformly praise Mullen for his role in ending the discriminatory policy, pointing to his testimony before the Senate Armed Service Committee, Feb. 2, 2010, as pivotal.
''Mr. Chairman, speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do,'' he testified.
''For me, personally, it comes down to integrity – theirs as individuals, and ours as an institution,'' Mullen explained.
Aboard the Intrepid Mullen told the gathering, ''It's actually pretty easy to stand up for what you believe in.''
''It's pretty easy to stand up and represent the values you have held close for your entire life and be fortunate enough to be in a leadership position where that value actually crosses over in a time and a place and in a way where you as a leader can really make a difference,'' he said.
Mullen's wife, Deborah, also attended the event.
In her remarks, emcee Walters, co-host and executive producer of the ABC's daytime show The View, termed Mullen a personal ''hero.''
''You have fought for something that is right — the end of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy,'' Walters said, looking out over the crowd, which included any number of attendees in military dress.
''So tonight is about history. Tonight is also honoring each and every one of you who has served our nation. Tonight, for the first time in American history, you have the chance to stand before this leader, an admiral, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the man who helped you on this journey, and we all simply say, thank you, sir,'' said Walters.
''Celebrating Our Heroes'' was also a very successful fundraiser, bringing in $700,000, with proceeds to benefit wounded war veterans.
The celebration drew representatives from corporate America, entertainment and the press and elected officials. Among those attending included lesbian New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn; gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts; Randy Jones of The Village People; and Elizabeth Birch, former president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT organization.
''We are pausing to mark and celebrate a moment in history,'' said Birch. ''The fact that we got Adm. Mullen to come represents the strongest symbol that we are bringing together established society and our community in a way that we couldn't have imagined 30 years ago.''
''The most powerful industrial military complex in the history of the world has said 'Yes,''' added Birch. ''That makes everything else inevitable. Everything else is inevitable.''