Decorated veteran Eric Alva tapped as Birch Award winner; special entertainment still to be announced
TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
Black Tie Dinner co-chairs Nan Arnold and Chris Kouvelis this week rounded out their 2011 “dream team” with the announcement that award-winning actress Marlee Matlin will be keynote speaker at the November fundraising event, and that decorated Iraq War veteran Eric Alva will receive the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award.
“We are so thrilled to have both of them with us this year,” said Arnold. “This gives us a real ‘dream team’” of honorees and speakers this year.
Black Tie officials announced earlier this year that local activist Chet Flake and his partner, the late Bud Knight, will receive the 2011 Raymond Kuchling Humanitarian Award, and that Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson will receive the Media Award.
Comedian and Sordid Lives: The Series star Caroline Rhea will be emcee for the event.
Arnold and Kouvelis also hinted that more big announcements are yet to come, thanks to the involvement of dinner sponsor Diamond Jacks Casino and Resort of Shreveport.
“Diamond Jacks has stepped up from their previous Silver Sponsor level to become a Diamond Level sponsor, and that has been a huge deal for us,” Arnold said. “It lets us do even more than before.
“They have been super to work with,” she continued. “Diamond Jack’s played a huge role in helping us secure Marlee Matlin as our speaker, and they are playing a huge role in helping us bring in some other very special entertainment. We hope to be making that announcement soon.”
Matlin in 1986 became the youngest woman — and the only deaf person — ever to receive the Academy Award for best actress when she won the award at age 21 for her role in Children of a Lesser God. She also won a Golden Globe award for that role.
She went on to a successful career in both movies and television, including a role as Bette Porter’s partner, Jodi Lerner, in 29 episodes of Showtime’s lesbian drama The L Word, from 2007 to 2009.
Matlin has also been active in a number of charitable organizations, including Easter Seals, where she was named an honorary board member; the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, VSA arts and the Red Cross Celebrity Cabinet.
She was appointed by President Clinton in 1994 to the Corporation for National Service and served as chair of National Volunteer Week.
Arnold described Matlin as a vocal supporter of LGBT rights.
Retired Marine Staff Sgt. Alva, a San Antonio native, was the first American serviceman injured in the Iraq War, losing his right leg when he stepped on a land mine while leading a supply unit in March 2003.
In 2007, Alva came out publicly as a gay man and has been working with the Human Rights Campaign since then to end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which has kept lesbians and gay men from serving openly.
Although Congress voted last December to repeal DADT, the policy has remained in effect while military leaders conducted training to prepare the military for open service by lesbians and gays. The president and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff certified repeal last month, and repeal takes effect, finally, on Sept. 20 — less than a month before Alva will accept the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award in Dallas.
“This is such an exciting time for him,” Kouvelis said of Alva. “He has been working tirelessly since he left the service and came out to get DADT repealed. Now it’s finally happening.
“We are just so thrilled with what he has done for our community, and so thrilled that he will be accepting this award. He is a real hero,” Kouvelis added.
Arnold added that when DADT repeal legislation last December, Alva was “standing there, right behind him, looking over the president’s shoulder as he signed it.” She also said that Alva, who is featured in the current issue of GQ Magazine, was a special guest a previous Black Tie Dinner.
“It is so wonderful to have him back with us, especially at such an exciting time,” Arnold said.
The Black Tie co-chairs this week also offered a preview of some of the items that will be included in the luxury auction at the dinner this year. Auction items include an eight-day trip to Rome and Malta, a complete bathroom remodel, a Scotland wedding package and a Puerto Vallarta vacation.
In addition, raffle tickets are still available, for $100 each, for a chance to win a 2012 Mercedes Benz C300 Sport Coupe, donated by Park Place Motorcars of Dallas. Raffle tickets are available online and from Black Tie board members and beneficiaries.
Sponsorships are still available, but only for a short time more, and table captain table sales are ongoing.
For information on becoming a table captain, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on becoming a Black Tie Dinner sponsor, email email@example.com.