Monday, March 21, 2011

Washington Social Diary

Keynote speaker Steny Hoyer
by Carol Joynt

Aubrey Sarvis is a good neighbor, and that is meant personally as well as in the larger community sense. We met in 1998, when he was, literally, my next-door neighbor, and a dream next-door neighbor at that. Soon enough he moved, because Aubrey has some of the rover in his DNA. While officially a long-time Capitol Hill operative, successful lobbyist, generous political fundraiser, he has a sideline that says just as much about him. He likes to buy homes in need of a fix up, then renovate, decorate, reside for a while, sell, and repeat the cycle: in Georgetown, New York, Charleston, SC, and on the Eastern Shore. He has a magic touch with transforming a home.

In 2007 his “hobby” had to take a back seat. That’s when he was transformed by a calling. He agreed to become Executive Director of the non-profit Service Members Legal Defense Network and, in effect, lead the charge for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The process made him a public figure and an important symbol of the gay rights movement, in other words, a good neighbor to a cause and a following.

Officially, in the group’s own carefully crafted words, The Service Members Legal Defense Network provides “free legal advice and assistance to those joining or serving in the U.S. Armed Forces who are threatened with investigation and discharge or are discriminated against because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or military appropriate gender expression.” That mission will change when the law is finally in place.

How did repeal legislation make it through the minefield of partisan Congress and onto President Obama’s desk? Aubrey, a lawyer, used skills honed while chief counsel for the Senate Commerce Committee and a Vice President of Verizon. He pulled together a tough staff, a diverse and activist board, and made and relied upon relationships on the Hill, at the Pentagon and the White House. SLDN shot quickly from the background to the foreground of Washington power, with Aubrey as the figurehead. Our frequent lunch and dinner conversations soon switched topic from real estate to his meetings at the White House and Pentagon, television appearances, and trips all over the country to raise money for the movement.

The media routinely describe him as a lanky, soft-spoken, southern gentleman, which is true. He’s also an Army veteran who served in Korea. He didn’t come out himself until after military service, but he vividly remembers the cruel way openly gay service members were treated.

At the outset of the SLDN job he said, “I’m not going to do this for long,” but now, having achieved his principal goal—President Obama signed the repeal legislation just before Christmas—Aubrey is still very much in place and this past Saturday night hosted SLDN’s 19th annual “National Dinner,” with a reported 1,300 guests, at the National Building Museum. Its theme was “Making History, Moving Forward.”
Rep. Steny Hoyer with Aubrey Sarvis.
Susan Dimarco. The arms of Aubrey Sarvis wrapped round Susan Dimarco.
David Keller, Aubrey Sarvis and Susan Dimarco.
Terrel Preston, Richard Hawk and Aubrey Sarvis.
Clarine Riddle with Aubrey Sarvis.
Aubrey admits the principal goal was achieved when the President signed the bill, but he is emphatic that the repeal movement’s work is not done. The old policy is still in effect, and will remain so until the Defense Department, the Joint Chiefs, and the White House certify that all troops are trained and educated to adapt to an environment where gay men and women can serve the country as who they are. That process involves a lot of components—some of them subjective, like readiness.

According to Aubrey, SLDN has not and will not let up on defending gay soldiers and applying pressure to the brass. Even when certification happens, he said it would still be 60 days before it is all clear for “service members to come out.”
The cocktail hour.
The meet and greet.
Cocktail entertainment courtesy of D.C. Swing.
The bar scene.
Champagne on ice.
One of the 130 tables.
The call to be seated. The first course.
Nonetheless, Saturday night’s dinner was an effusive if slightly cautious celebration. “Tonight we celebrate, and rightly so. But is our work over? Can we finally move on? This fight is not over,” Aubrey told an audience that included members of Congress, officials from the Pentagon and White House, and a range of corporate sponsors. “Our work is done only when lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender service members, willing to serve and fight and die for this country, are treated equally under the law. That day has not yet arrived.”

Not everyone at the dinner was gay, but most were, including a lot of retired and active military, and many in uniform. If you didn’t know otherwise, looking across the room, it could easily have been a routine, male-dominated, Pentagon social occasion. Everyone came to party, a contrast to earlier annual dinners that had a strong turn out and raised a lot of money but were subdued by the struggle to get the legislation on a political front burner.
The evening's emcee, Chris Matthews. Dinner co-chair, Rep. Patrick Murphy.
Honoring Hoyer with the Anna M. Curren Service Award, with Anna on the right.
The dinner as co-chair Sen. Joseph Lieberman spoke on a video feed.
The Rock Creek Singers entertain.
This year there were stronger indications of credibility. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews was emcee. He’s given a lot of supportive attention to DADT on his daily “Hardball” broadcast, where Aubrey is a frequent guest. Democratic Congressman Steny Hoyer was the evening’s keynote speaker. Echoing Aubrey, his prepared text included the words, “Let’s monitor the transition to open service diligently; let’s ensure that it’s implemented quickly, fairly, and professionally. Let’s keep an eye on the process until it’s done.” Sen. Joseph Lieberman, though not in attendance, was co-chair with former Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy, who was there.

A central part of the evening is the “ask,” when guests compete to raise their hands and pledge ever-larger amounts of money. This year the ask raised $150,000 over what came in from dinner tickets, which started at $250 per person.
Steny Hoyer poses for a photo with a dinner guest.
The group gave Hoyer their top award, the Anna M. Curren Service Award. Aubrey said Hoyer, in his role as Democratic Minority Whip, got the legislation through the House. “His leadership and dedication at the twelfth hour literally turned the tide.”

Another honoree was Lady Gaga, who gave strong public support to the movement and, according to SLDN, “emboldened millions of young people to get engaged.” She was not able to attend due to being on tour, but the pop singer steps up for SLDN when she can. Last September, at Aubrey’s request, she spontaneously turned around her tour bus and made an overnight trip to Portland, ME, to make a headline-grabbing appearance at a rally just days before the Senate vote. In essence, more of that good neighbor spirit.
Michael Doughton and Andy Leonard.
Pat Nickols and Margarethe Cammermeyer, who was portrayed by Glenn Close in a 1995 biographical film. Carlos Smith and Josh Arnold.
Paul Wolfson and Jonathan Ross-Harrington.
Lee Tate, Gordon Tanner, Chad Coots, Rudy Reyns, and Robert Patlan.
Alan Batson and Charles Sweet.
Bringing Cosmopolitans to the table. Monica Fleishman and Kris Tobin.
Chris Miller, Mark Pfeifer, and Clint Lohse.
Frederica and George Valanos.
Elizabeth Powell and Frederica Valanos.
Ben Hoffman, on the left, with a friend. Gerald Langan and Nicola Crivelli.
Francisco Ramirez and Laura Smith-Ramirez.
Ann Walker Marchant.
Jeff Powell, Elizabeth Powell, David Keller, and Susan Dimarco.

Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C.

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