America: Winter 2016

2006-2016  Gay Military Signal

Tenth Anniversary Retrospective
2006 - 2016

There are shops that can proudly claim to have been in business since 1916 or something like that.  Proudly proclaiming ten years of existence, on the other hand, is perhaps a bit presumptuous.  But, when it comes to our rights as Gay Americans, there has never been a more dramatic progressive time in our history.  Just about every bit of that can be attributed to the leadership of President Barack Obama.  When Gay Military Signal was founded in the summer of 2006, proud patriotic gay American service members were still being booted out of our armed forces simply because of who we are.  While some could marry, official recognition of our love was still a dream in most places, with rights and benefits being denied with prejudice.  Now, we can be both proud of our service and of who we are and marry anywhere in America.

And if the promise is kept, starting this month, transgender patriots will be able to serve openly in pride alongside other courageous American volunteers.  Will it happen?  In the week between Christmas and New Years, a Pentagon based reporter from a major news service phoned me and asked about that.  Imagine.  I said, "You're inside the Pentagon and you're asking ME?!"  I slapped my forehead so hard I nearly knocked myself silly.  We discussed some of the old bogeyman issues: showers, toilets, room sharing, etc.  I said that if our service members are not mature enough to calmly deal with our American diversity, then they are not mature enough to hold a gun, drive a weaponized armored vehicle, steer a nuclear submarine, fire a missile from a drone, or even wear an American uniform.  We can and will do it, I assured her.

But, don't sit back on you ass for a second and think that the battle is over!  This is just the end of the beginning of our battle for full equality.  There's an entire political party that wants to reverse all the progress of the past 50 years or more, not just for gay folks but for all Americans.  They want to roll back rights, starting with the right to vote, equal pay for women and reproductive rights,  minimum wages for workers, the right of all Americans to walk down our streets without being shot, the right to healthcare, marriage equality and the right to serve, and the right to live in this nation free of discrimination, among the basic rights envisioned by the founders of this nation.

They want to convince ordinary straight poor working folks to be willing to let their children starve for the privilege of prejudice. There are all kinds of folks who've bought into this hatemongering fantasy along with those who think a gun in every kitchen is better than a chicken in every pot.  Be careful what you wish for.

There are young LGBT folks who have never experienced having to hide who they are, thank Obama.  They believe in their freedom, some oblivious of our history of  struggle.  We had no rights ten minutes before they were born, and we could loose all of it starting ten months from now.  Speak up, speak out, and vote for your life.

In this retrospective anniversary issue we look back at some of our greatest fallen heroes, that we have written about in the past ten years; starting with PFC Frank Kameny, interviewed in 2006, who fought in WWII in the battle of the bulge, through the heart of Germany, and ending the war liberating Czechoslovakia.  He earned a chest full of medals, but proudly only wore his simple Combat Infantry Badge wherever he went for the next 50 years of his life.  He went on to found and lead the modern movement for gay liberation.  He died on National Coming Out Day in 2011.  This past Veterans Day, a monument honoring his service and life was installed in a ceremony at the Congressional Cemetery, next to the grave of our Vietnam hero Tech Sgt Leonard Matlovich, whom we also remember in this issue.  In a monumental understatement, Kameny humbly began his interview with Gay Military Signal saying, "There isn't much to tell, I was just and ordinary soldier."

Published in 2006

An Ordinary Soldier
PFC Franklin Kameny
World War II Veteran

by Denny Meyer

It was an honor being able to interview a living hero of our history, our own Dr. Franklin Kameny, the father of modern gay rights.  There are only a small handful, nearly forgotten by those who came later, who began to demand gay rights in 1959 and never stopped to this day. From the day he was sacked from his government astronomer position due to homosexuality in 1957, Dr. Franklin Kameny has never ceased championing gay rights over the decades. If you were to plan to google his name, it would be advisable to stock provisions first, as you would be glued to your computer for a very long time.

Yet when I telephoned Dr. Kameny and asked about his own military experience, he began by saying the same words that nearly every single gay veteran whom I have interviewed responds with: "Well, there's not much to tell; my service was quite ordinary." Indeed, and that is just the point.

This is the story of an ordinary soldier, as much as if one were to have been able to ask Moses, "tell me about the days when you were merely a slave."

It would take several volumes to recount all that Dr. Kameny has done in his lifetime, with the final volume yet to come. Just to remind readers, Dr Kameny did not stop at his early marches in suit and tie in the late 50s and early 60s and the founding of the Washington DC Mattachine. He was also active in the 70s with youngsters, at that time, in forming the far more aggressive actions of the Gay Activist Alliance. And it was Dr Kameny whom Leonard Matlovich first anxiously telephoned when he heard that he was looking for a perfect test case of a sterling service member who was gay (according to the account in Conduct Unbecoming, by Randy Shilts).

Published in 2008
Pride Month Memories

Leonard Matlovich: an Inconvenient Hero
by Denny Meyer

Leonard Matlovich 1980s Denny Meyer 2008

June 22, 2008
Twenty years ago today, on June 22, 1988, my friend Lenny Matlovich died from AIDS.  Air Force Tech Sgt Leonard Matlovich was a decorated Vietnam war hero, with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star and 12 years of sterling service to his country.  In 1975, he wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Air Force declaring that he was gay.  He was involuntarily discharged, as expected, and he sued for reinstatement.  After ten long years he won his case;  and he received a cash settlement to part ways with the Air Force.

I first met Lenny at a Pridefest in the Summer of 1979.  He was already famous and he'd come to San Francisco where he was welcomed by the gay community with open arms.  Lenny was also a most curious hero for gay folks.  Although there are a million living gay veterans who had served from World War II onward; for most gay people, a "gay man in uniform" was some sort of incongruous fantasy in those days.  Yet, there he was, an openly out war hero, a tall handsome sergeant through and through, conservative, slightly unfashionable, and a Republican from the vast hetero heartland.  For gay folks, at that time, he exemplified the amazing thought that one could truly be anything one wanted to be.

Published in 2008
Our Whole Self And Whole Story:
Honoring My Friend and Hero
Major Alan G. Rogers

By Tony Smith

Major Alan Rogers; Photo: US Army

Here I am, March 14th, 2008, standing on a hillside overlooking the solemn rows of white crosses dotting the hillside against the sunny blue sky. With a cool early Spring breeze blowing against my skin I stand at attention watching the Military Honor Guard take the flag draped casket of my friend Major Alan G. Rogers, USA, from the hearse and slowly lift him up upon the horse drawn Caisson for the full military honors burial procession. This is the last place I expected to be on a warm early spring day, saying goodbye to my friend Alan at his burial in Arlington National Cemetery. But here I am, along with about 200 of his friends, family, community members, Army and other military and DoD colleagues to say goodbye and honor our friend, a true patriot that gave the ultimate sacrifice, his life, while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Alan was killed on January 27th, 2008 while on foot patrol when an IED exploded nearby. I had just spoken with Alan by email the day before on January 26th, and he was looking forward to seeing his friends in DC again. He will be sorely missed.


Published in 2011

A Meaningful Life
Lori Wilfahrt

Our son, Corporal Andrew Wilfahrt, age 31, was killed in action February 27 while on foot patrol outside of Kandahar, Afghanistan. It is painful to think that he will never come home again. However, we remember him well and are reminded daily of what a truly remarkable son and brother he was.  The love and support from family, friends, the Army family and even complete strangers, softens the blow a little.

We are not a church-going family but that didn’t mean that our parenting didn’t include discussions around morals, ethics or religions. And we had a few simple rules. Be responsible. Do your part. Laugh and have fun. Be nice. Share.

We are not a military family.  Older relatives served a long time ago, but we didn’t know much about military life or culture. There was stunned silence at the dinner table when Andrew announced that he was joining the Army. What was he thinking? He was messy and not always punctual. He was a peace-loving person, he challenged authority on an intellectual level, he respected life and he was gay.

We are a lucky family to have had Andrew. He was a beautiful child: sweet, curious and kind.  He had a silly sense of humor and as he grew up he loved all things ridiculous and absurd. Numbers, palindromes and patterns were a constant source of entertainment for him. But his passion was classical music, especially Bach. He composed and played the piano at a young age and his love of music continued into adulthood.

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See Sgt Denny on YouTube: Nov 2011
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