WASHINGTON -- The 15th annual fundraising dinner for the Human Rights Campaign on Saturday was different from past events for one big reason: Openly gay active-duty servicemembers were able to wear their military uniforms without any fear of retribution.
Ret. Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, a gay veteran who has been an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights, was the first Marine seriously wounded in the Iraq War. He was also right by President Obama's side when he signed into law the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," which barred gay and lesbian individuals from serving openly in the U.S. military.
This year's event was the first dinner to take place since DADT, which officially ended on Sept. 20.
Alva has attended five of HRC's annual dinners, but this was the first one to which he has worn his military uniform, which was decorated with medals, including the Purple Heart.
"This is something monumental," said Alva. "We needed to do this. People often ask me, ‘Eric, how do you feel about the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell?’ I’m excited. I’m ecstatic. I’m retired now, but this was something that needed to be done for the better good of America."
Maj. Shannon McCrory has been serving for 17 years and has been a member of HRC for 10 years. This, however, was the first time that he attended one of the group's annual dinners, and he did so in his uniform.
McCrory said his post-DADT experience so far has been "fairly positive." He has not come out publicly in his office, but he has with others in his life.
"I think a lot of people know us and knew we were there, and they're just happy that they can get to know us for who we are versus having to live a sheltered life," he told The Huffington Post.
When asked about all the soldiers wearing their uniforms, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) -- who is a lesbian and running for U.S. Senate -- said, "It warms my heart, and I'm so proud of them, and thank them so much for their service to our country."
Michael Subra, an active-duty servicemember who has been with the U.S. Coast Guard for more than 15 years, was invited to the HRC dinner.
When asked why he was in uniform, he replied, "No particular reason. Just because I can, I guess -- 'don’t ask, don’t tell,' the repeal."
He called Sept. 20 a "good day," but said he didn't come out publicly at work.
"But it was really just an ordinary day for me because I didn’t act or do anything different on that day at work," said Subra.
At Saturday's dinner, there was a table filled with servicemembers -- both active-duty and retired -- wearing their uniforms.