Metro Weekly

Two Coasts, Two Visions of Equality — for AFER and SLDN

sldn20.jpg[Photo: Servicemembers Legal Defense Network co-founder Michelle Benecke speaks at SLDN’s 20th annual dinner, where the plaintiffs of the organization’s ongoing lawsuit seeking equal spousal benefits for servicemembers were recognized on stage. (Photo by Chris Geidner.)]

On Saturday evening, March 3, two events were held putting forth two visions of equality, one in the Armed Forces and one about marriage.

In DC, supporters of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network gathered at the National Building Museum for the organization’s 20th annual national dinner, emceed by MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts and featuring a keynote address by President Obama’s senior advisor, Valerie Jarrett. Jarrett, who previously addressed the Human Rights Campaign’s annual dinner, spoke to SLDN about the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” including an extended story about now-SLDN Development Director David Hall’s experience in the military and discharge under DADT. In part, Jarrett said:

[I]n the Obama Administration, we talk a lot about change. Well thanks to the work we’ve done together, if anyone ever asks you what change is all about, you can tell them that change is finally being able to put a family photo on your desk. Change is being able to tell your coworkers what you and your loved one did over the weekend, or what you have planned for your family vacation. Change is being able to share stories about your family with fellow servicemembers while you’re away from home, and living with the fear that you may never see them again. Change is knowing that if you make that ultimate sacrifice for your country, someone will be able to notify your loved ones. That’s change.

And I thought that tonight, I would close by sharing a story about what change truly likes looks like to me. At last Wednesday’s dinner at the White House, one of the guests was Lieutenant Colonel Beth Behn. She’s spent nearly two decades in the army, including service overseas in Kuwait, Korea, and Haiti, and two tours of duty in Iraq. Today she’s a professor at West Point. She’s accomplished a great deal in her stellar career – but one thing she had never done, until last Wednesday, was bring her partner of 13 years to an official event. So the fact that Beth and Julie were both honored by the President, and able to proudly sit, together, in the East Room of the White House – well, that’s what change looks like to me. When President Obama thanked the military families, and Julie was able to stand and be recognized – that’s what change looks like to me. And the fact that their children will be able to tell their friends that both their parents went to the White House – that’s what change looks like to me.

The dinner was SLDN executive director Aubrey Sarvis’s last, as he announced earlier this year that he would be leaving the organization when a successor is named to take his place, and he was honored from the stage for his service to the organization.

On the other coast, supporters of the American Foundation for Equal Rights — including the group’s board president, Chad Griffin, who was named the next president of HRC on Friday, March 2 — gathered at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles for the West Coast premiere of 8, Dustin Lance Black’s play about the Perry v. Schwarzenegger trial challenging the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8.

WATCH the Los Angeles 8 premiere, screencap below, below the jump.


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