Colonel Ginger Wallace, an openly lesbian intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force, will be one of two openly gay people in the First Lady’s gallery seats tonight, when President Obama delivers his State of the Union address for 2012.
The second openly gay guest is Lorelei Kilker, an environmental chemist who was part of the government’s class action suit to secure equal wages for women.
Wallace, of McLean, Virginia, and Kilker of Brighton, Colorado, will be guests at a reception at the White House and then travel to the Capitol with the First Lady to sit in a special section of the House balcony to hear the president’s speech.
Wallace, reached by phone Tuesday morning, said her partner of 11 years, Kathy Knopf, will be with her at the White House reception and then will watch the speech with other spouses at the White House.
Wallace, 43, said the White House asked Servicemembers United leader Alex Nicholson for names of openly gay service members to consider to be honored with the invitation. In addition, Wallace had been the subject of an article in the Washington, D.C. gay newspaper, the Washington Blade, in early December. The article noted that Knopf would be participating in Wallace’s promotion ceremony. Then, that article was quoted a few weeks later by White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett in a Huffington Post piece on the anniversary of President Obama’s signing of the bill to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“I could not be more honored or proud,” said Wallace, Tuesday morning. “I’m representing thousands and thousands who have served or are serving…. But it’s truly not about us. It’s about all the gays and lesbians who have served, and those who served and we’re not as fortunate as I to have full careers, and those who will serve in the future. And it is about our families and partners.”
Wallace is currently in training for deployment to Afghanistan this spring to serve as an adviser to senior officials in the Afghan government and military.
Lorelei Kilker could not be reached at deadline today, but a White House advisory notes that she is an analytical chemist for an environmental lab.
“In October of 2011,” notes the advisory, “Ms. Kilker was one of a class of women who benefitted from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) investigation of alleged systematic sex discrimination at her former employer that resulted in the award of back wages and significant remedial relief, arrangements that were achieved through a cooperative process between the employer and EEOC.”
An EEOC press release October 3, 2011, identified Kilker as having been an employee of Western Sugar Cooperative when she brought to the EEOC’s attention practices by the company that resulted in female employees being denied the same training, desirable work assignments, and promotions as its male employees. Kilker filed a lawsuit on behalf of herself and other women at the company and, with the intervention of EEOC, Western Sugar agreed to make “significant remedial relief.”
The advisory notes that Kilker has a domestic partner and two children and the couple lives in Brighton.