Eric Holder – Photo: Randy Shulman
“This is indeed, I think, a very hopeful time,” former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said at the Capital Pride Heroes Gala on June 3. “But we should not kid ourselves. Much work really remains to be done. The fight is larger than the one solely for marriage equality. Discrimination against the LGBT community is still very real. It is still the basis for wrong-headed policies and dangerous attitudes. And so the fight for true LGBT equality must go on…. The struggle must continue.”
Holder was presented by Capital Pride with the 2015 Paving the Way Award for his courage and leadership in helping to advance LGBT rights as the Obama administration’s top law enforcement official. It was Holder who refused to defend the congressionally-approved Defense of Marriage Act — better known as DOMA — on the basis that he believed the federal law to be unconstitutional. Holder also instituted guidelines outlining how the federal government would treat and recognize same-sex couples with respect to federal spousal benefits and legal rights after DOMA was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2013.
Wednesday night’s well-attened gala, held at the stately Carnegie Auditorium on K Street NW, served as the kickoff to this year’s Capital Pride celebration.
“If only one person or one group is denied the full measure of our Constitution, all of us are diminished,” Holder told the crowd. “All those who are committed to making real the promise of our democracy must engage on all of these fronts, on all of these fronts. And all lives, all lives matter.
“Progress is indeed possible,” he continued. “But it is not a gift. It is the result of hard work, organization, and perseverance. Working together, I am fully confident we can make this great nation great.”
Speaking exclusively with Metro Weekly earlier in the evening, Holder noted that the honor meant a “great deal” to him and called the fight for full LGBT equality the “civil rights issue of our time.”
Holder also struck a personal note, explaining that his support for LGBT rights was inspired in his youth by a gay relative.
“Uncle Sonny. He was gay. He was always the coolest guy I knew. He was the first guy I knew who had a sports car, let me ride in it, let me drive it when I shouldn’t have been able to drive it — I was too young — and I always saw the gay community through him.
“And for me, it is one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about this. I think about him, and the closeted life that he had to lead, and kind of thought, in my own mind, that it was just fundamentally unfair. And coming from a civil rights background, this seems to me just a logical extension of the things we have done in the past.”
Holder was honored alongside several other people and organizations, including Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop of the Anglican Communion; Alexandra Ernst, a member of the Board of Governors for the Human Rights Campaign; Justin Markiewicz, an officer with the Metropolitan Police Department’s gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit; former Maryland delegate and gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur; and Paul Kawata, founder and executive director of the National Minority AIDS Council.
This year’s Engendered Spirit Awards went to Bobbi Elaine Strang, the first openly transgender employee for the District of Columbia’s Department of Employment Services, and Kaprice Williams, a volunteer at Casa Ruby, the local community and drop-in services center. Whitman-Walker Health was honored with the Larry Stansbury Award for Exemplary Contributions to Pride for their continued contributions to Capital Pride over the years, including taking the helm of the annual celebration in the late 1990s when Capital Pride encountered financial and organizational difficulties. Local transgender activist Holly Goldmann was awarded the Bill Miles Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service for her longstanding dedication to both the Pride and Capital Trans Pride celebrations.
The evening ended with a robust performance by popular performer, Steve Grand.