"When I entered the Air Force right out of college in 1986, I was asked about my sexual orientation and I lied," Andrew Sendall, a U.S. Air Force veteran and current director at Citigroup Inc.'s Global Business Resiliency Services told the crowd gathered aboard the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York.
"I wanted to serve my country, but my country gave me a terrible choice," Sendall continued. "I could tell the truth, and I wouldn't be allowed to serve, or I could lie and I'd be allowed to serve, but at the expense of my integrity and my identity."
Today, military members do not have to face that same personal conflict, Sendall said, and the only question relevant to prospective military recruits is "Are you prepared to serve and defend your country?"
The event on the Intrepid drew thousands on Tuesday night, and was bolstered in part by Wall Street sponsorship through an Interbank Roundtable Committee that included Citi. UBS AG, a premier sponsor for the event, has an ongoing commitment to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, and started a fundraising campaign months ago that has reached $550,000, said UBS Managing Director Daniel Maury, who serves as finance data strategy lead, Group CFO Management at the firm.
The cause for allowing gays to serve in the military aligns closely with the mission statements of Wall Street firms that emphasize honesty, transparency and integrity, Maury said. "You have reestablished the foundation of modern society," he said. "It allows people to operate based on their ambition and their performance, and not on the people they love."
The event drew high profile guests including Barbara Walters and former Village People star Randy Jones. But the real stars of the night were the ones who directly worked on the law's repeal, including retired U.S. Navy Admiral Michael Mullen, who served as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 through 2011, and former U.S. Congressman Patrick Murphy, who wrote the Don't Ask Don't Tell Repeal Act while in office.
Mullen famously told the Senate Armed Forces Committee in February 2010: "It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do." On Tuesday night, Mullen told the crowd that his stance came from long-held personal beliefs, and he was fortunate to be in a leadership position when he could really make a difference. "I felt blessed to be there and blessed to represent all of us in the United States military at a time that made such a difference in so many lives," Mullen told the audience. "Our ability to serve, no matter who we are, is such a gift to America."
Mullen also urged attendees to remember the 70,000-member troops currently at war in Afghanistan and the families of the fallen. Last night's event raised more than $700,000 that will be given to veterans and the wounded, he said.
Murphy called the evening a "rare moment" in the fight for equality and paid tribute to President Barack Obama, whose name drew enthusiastic cheers from the crowd. "Every so often in our nation, in a flash of time, we come that much closer to the dream of equality for all of us. Tonight is one of those times," Murphy said. "But the fight continues until every American has full equality."
Other financial services firms who helped sponsor the event include Bank of America, BNY Mellon and Credit Suisse, among other corporate sponsors. The event was hosted by non-profit organization Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and OutServe, an association of actively serving LGBT military members.