Today, we celebrate Veterans Day across the U.S. On this day we recognize all of the veterans of all of the wars fought on behalf of our great nation. Those who have given of themselves, even be it life or limb or more, are owned a great deal of gratitude for their service. They served bravely.
However, for some of those who represented our Armed Forces since the beginning of our country’s existence, their service was done in silence.
Our LGBT brothers and sisters who gallantly marched into battle or staffed a strategic station had to hide who they were on a more personal level from their comrades. To do so meant either expulsion or worse.
Hark back to Pfc. Barry Winchell and his horrific death at the hands of his own countryman, Calvin Glover, in his own barracks. He was beaten to death with a baseball bat. Winchell had fallen in love with Calpernia Addams, a transgender performer at a Nashville, Tenn., bar. Glover was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the offense.
Also, let’s consider Petty Officer 3rd Class Allen Schindler, who was attached to the U.S. Navy. In 1992, he was the victim of gay bashing in Japan while stationed there. He was repeatedly harassed and beaten and tried to get out of the military. He was killed by two fellow Navy men, his death a result of a severe beating.
Of course, these are only a couple of incidences and the list is too prolific to detail here. But, best to say, treatment of LGBT service members, was not acceptable for centuries.
With the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” our LGBT military personnel were finally able to serve out and proud.
Reports that those who were discharged dishonorably, may soon have their separation papers changed to honorable if progressive politicians and military authority can hammer out the details. Too long coming. Much overdue.
Too, the transgender community will hopefully have their due once that hurdle is cleared as well, so they can serve in their authentic selves.
Yesterday, the National LGBTQ Task Force Assistant Faith Worker and former U.S. Air Force officer, Barbara Satin, shared, “On Veterans Day, as we honor those who’ve served in the military, let us also lift up the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) service members. For decades, courageous and dedicated LGBTQ people served in the U.S. military while hiding their true identity out of fear of being discharged. Today, while we have made significant strides with the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ transgender people are still denied the opportunity to serve openly in the military. That is why we’re again calling on the Defense Department to expedite their repeal of the ban of transgender people in the military.”
And, just yesterday, too, the Washington Examiner reported that “Air Force General Counsel Gordon O. Tanner, the first presidential appointee who is gay and married to a same-sex spouse to be approved by the Senate” would keynote the headstone unveiling for Franklin E. Kameny on Veterans Day. The Examiner also shared that the unveiling would take place at Capitol Hill’s Congressional Cemetery in the world’s only graveyard section dedicated to gays. The 12th annual Veterans Day observance takes place at the graveside of former Air Force Tech Sgt. Leonard Matlovich. The marker, along with a foot stone reading “Gay is Good” — a Kameny motto — were included, the Windy City Times added.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs states: “VA is committed to a diverse workforce and an inclusive workplace. We understand that diversity and inclusion are essential for a high performing organization that delivers the best service to our Veterans. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community is an integral aspect of our human diversity. To that end, VA has implemented several policies and programs over the last few years that specifically address the needs and concerns of the LGBT community. Since 2009, VA has included equal employment opportunity protections for employees on the basis of sexual orientation in the Secretary’s Annual EEO, Diversity, and No FEAR Policy Statement which added protections based on gender identity and parental status as well. To complement this, VA developed and implemented an internal complaint process to provide employees with an internal avenue of redress for complaints based on these areas: “VA will not tolerate discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, gender identity, parental status, sexual orientation, age, disability, genetic information, or retaliation for opposing discriminatory practices or participating in the discrimination complaint process. This applies to all terms and conditions of employment, including recruitment, hiring, promotions, transfers, reassignments, training, career development, benefits, and separation…” (visit diversity.va.gov/programs/lgbt.aspx to read more). Same-sex marriage is also recognized.
The U.S. Naval Institute compiled a list of key dates on gay men and women in military service. It is available online at usni.org/news-and-features/dont-ask-dont-tell/timeline.
There is an initiative to erect a National LGBT Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. To learn more, go to nlgbtvm.org.
On Nov. 7, presidential hopeful, former secretary of state and former first lady, Hillary Clinton, addressed the SC Equality Dinner in Columbia, S.C. and shared, “Now, meanwhile, transgender people are still prevented from serving openly. That’s an outdated rule, especially since you and I know there are transgender people in uniform right now. And they are serving their country. That’s why I support the policy review that Defense Secretary [Ashton] Carter recently announced at the Pentagon. It’s why I hope the United States joins many other countries where transgender people are free to serve openly.”
We’ve come a long way over the last few years and there’s still more to do.
We owe our military respect for the sacrifices they make. And, to our LGBT community members who make the decision to walk these trying miles, we even own more. They are not only pressing against enemies, both foreign and domestic, but they push against a system that in the past has been anything but accepting. And, that is changing.
Now, we have LGBT service members who are choosing to serve authentically, who marry their partners, who stand up to tyranny and oppression and who bravely march along with their straight counterparts into war zones. But, the battle is not over yet. It will take awhile for everyone in the military to become accustomed to a fully-inclusive system. But, I have faith that the good shall will out.
So, today and everyday, remember our LGBT veterans. Honor their service and for many their ultimate sacrifice. They have given so much and asked for so little. All that was requested was to serve just as they are and were, without prejudice, without harassment, without injury to body and mind. And, most of all, to be able to do so with respect and dignity. That is not a lot to ask for in decidedly one of the most selfless acts one could portray.
Let the stars and stripes live peacefully and in harmony with the rainbow stripes, furled in freedom — “one nation, under God, for liberty and justice for all.”