On Friday, the LGBTQ Victory Institute awarded U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) with its inaugural LGBTQ History Maker Award, in honor of her successful push to repeal the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy which had barred out LGBTQ people from serving.
In recognition of the upcoming 10-year anniversary of the repeal, the LGBTQ Victory Institute recognized Pelosi’s efforts to reverse the discriminatory Pentagon policy as part of its 2020 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference, held virtually this year.
In pre-recorded remarks, President-elect Joe Biden praised the LGBTQ Victory Institute and its political arm, the LGBTQ Victory Fund, for cultivating LGBTQ leaders and encouraging them to run for public office, before then turning to honor Pelosi, a longtime friend and political ally.
“Vice President-elect Harris and I are committed to being the most pro-equality administration in history. But we can’t do it without you, and we can’t do it without my dear friend, Nancy Pelosi,” Biden said. “Nancy, congratulations on receiving the Victory Institute’s History Makers Award. You deserve it.
“Three decades in Congress, always in the right side of LGBTQ history. Always,” he continued. “And the fact that you can receive a History Maker Award for that and so much more is testament to your character. It’s a testament to the life’s work to make real the promise of this country that you’ve been devoted to, that we’re all created equal and deserve to be treated equally, and with dignity and respect.”
Biden added: “You’re a dear, dear friend, Nancy. You really are. You’re an American treasure. And I can’t wait to work together again with you to continue to fight for full equality and to usher in a new era of LGBTQ rights and the entire movement.”
The Speaker was also congratulated, via video message, by a host of other public figures, including former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), the sponsor of the House amendment to repeal the discriminatory policy, who presented the award.
Others offering testimonials praising the Speaker were: South Bend Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg; former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.); Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.); U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.); fashion consultant and television personality Tim Gunn; singer and entertainer Cyndi Lauper; LGBTQ rights activist Jim Obergefell; former Air Force veteran Gina Ortiz Jones; and Tiffany Muller, the executive director of End Citizens United, a former Democratic Party operative, and the former vice president of political operations for the LGBTQ Victory Fund.
In brief remarks, Pelosi expressed her gratitude to the Victory Institute for its award, and praised several others for the roles they each played in bolstering support for repeal, making sure it was carefully crafted, and getting the legislation through Congress, praising Barney Frank, in particular, for cajoling then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to move the legislation through the U.S. Senate and onto President Obama’s desk for his signature.
“Many people contributed to this success,” Pelosi said. I was proud to be Speaker, to orchestrate how we would get this done. And we’ll talk more about that. But it was about time.”
Asked by The Washington Post‘s Jonathan Capehart whether she would consider the repeal legislation to be among the top accomplishments of her congressional career, Pelosi responded that it was, along with legislation to protect the LGBTQ community from hate crimes.
“Today, receiving this has special poignancy, because over the holidays, I found out my nephew is going to be Skylar. And we’re all filled with joy that Skylar has found her happiness. My receiving this will have special meaning to Skylar,” she said.
Pelosi also recounted how proud she had been of several transgender military members who, at the request of congressional Democrats, had attended the 2019 State of the Union address in full uniform in order to call attention to the absurdity and unfairness of President Trump’s proposal to bar all transgender personnel from the military.
She also recalled how, 10 years ago, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was complicated by the reticence of more progressive members of the Democratic Caucus to vote for the defense appropriations bill to which the amendment had been added.
“I went to my members and I said, ‘You’re making history today.’ They said, ‘Yes, we repealed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ I said, ‘Not just that. In order for that to happen, you, my progressive friends, are going to have to vote for the defense bill.’ They said, ‘Oh, no, no, we never vote for the defense bill.’
“And I said, ‘You don’t understand, the Republicans are not going to vote for the defense bill. I can see it in their eyes.’ And they said, ‘Republicans always vote for the defense bill!’ … And I said, ‘Do me a favor. Stand in the back of the room, and watch.’ And nine Republicans voted for the defense bill. And I said, ‘There you go.’ And right down the center aisle went the parade of progressives to make history for the first time, and vote for the defense bill to protect Patrick Murphy’s amendment.”
Following Pelosi’s remarks, Capehart moderated a live panel discussion reflecting on the fight to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” featuring Admiral Michael Mullen, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Valerie Jarrett, a former senior advisor to President Barack Obama; and Dr. Aaron Belkin, the director of the Palm Center, a think tank that focuses on issues of gender and sexual minorities in the U.S. military.
Notably, Mullen, who has been praised for his testimony before Congress in which he came out in support of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” explained why he has largely shunned praise of his remarks — which were historic in nature — as “courageous.”
“The focus groups I did with those who had retired or been discharged about living a lie every day that they were in uniform, those were the ones that really moved me in the end,” he recalled. “And so I get a lot of plaudits for courage. The day I testified, I didn’t see it as courageous at all. It was an issue of integrity. That was core to me. It’s core to the military…. Prior to that, too often, the debate had been about sex and sexual orientation. And once I raised the issue of integrity, it actually changed the terms of reference for the debate and set us on a path that eventually would allow passage of the bill.”
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!