Michael Rankin, M.D.
Capt., MC. USN (Ret.)
Could we be
moving rapidly toward justice for gay, lesbian,
bisexual, and transgendered peopleóeven in the
red states? Even in Virginia, where the anti-gay
marriage amendment passed overwhelmingly in
November, where gay adoption, civil unions, and
domestic partner benefits are anathema to the
Republicans who dominate the state Assembly and
changing faster than we could have dreamed? They
just might be, if a panel discussion I attended
last week is any indication.
On June 26, I
spoke about "Donít Ask Donít Tell"
at Greenspring Retirement Community in
Springfield, Virginia, south of Arlington.
warned by the convener that the other panelist,
a retired Navy medical officer like myself, was
eager to keep "his Navy" free of
homosexuals. Iíd been told to expect a hostile
audience with probing questions.
have been further from the truth.
first, I began with a brief history of the
policy, mentioning in particular Virginiaís
Senator Warnerís role in sinking Clintonís
hope of ending the ban altogether. I talked
about the thousands discharged since l993; the
thousands who serve nonetheless, in silence; the
thousands of veterans who have defended this
nation in all the wars from
WW II to Iraq.
I personalized it with the story of a young
Marine in my unit in Vietnam whoíd been sent
for discharge when he slipped a note to a
friendly sergeant, suggesting they go on R&R
together. He was the mechanical genius who used
our primitive communications equipment to bring
in helicopters to evacuate our wounded. He saved
lives, every day. This didnít protect him from
being discharged for being gay. Where was the
justice in that?
I finished my
remarks and sat down, to polite applause.
panelist spoke next. Far from opposing me, he
said he agreed with everything I said. The
policy was unjust and should be overturned.
questions from the audience. These retirees in
their 70ís and 80ís, many of them military
veterans, agreed that the policy should be
ended, and now.. Without exception, they knew of
gay and lesbian service members on their ships
and in their unitsóthey served proudly with
them then, and would again.
When it was
almost over, a man stood to express his anger.
He had come expecting a debateóbut there was
no debate. Everyone, in his opinion, was on the
same side. Why had nobody pointed out that men
and women in uniform are so attractive that of
course gays and lesbians would try to seduce
This gave me
the opportunity to say again, as I had stressed
in my talkóbehavior prohibited to
heterosexuals should be prohibited to
homosexuals as well. And the punishment for both
should be the same.
period ended, and several came up to speak in
private. One was a woman whose lesbian grand
daughter, who was deaf, was excelling at Smith
College. She was very proud of her.
angry and apologetic that the moderator had
outed me before I spoke. She would give him a
piece of her mind. I asked her not to. I told
her if he hadnít outed me, Iíd have outed
But the last
resident who approached me, will stay longest in
my mind. He walked up, took my hand, and said
"Iím gay. I am 80 years old and I have
never said those words to anyone before. Iím
I was stunned.
was what it was like to speak of justice on a
warm summerís day in red state Virginia. True,
this was in Northern Virginia, where voters tend
to be more liberal than in other sections of the
state. But many of the residents who attended
were retired militaryótraditionally more
conservative. So perhaps they did reflect a true
change of attitude, and if attitudes are
changing here, surely they are changing even
faster in more progressive parts of the country.
rest from the struggle for full justice for gay
people in America, in the military and in
civilian life. Much remains to be done. More
battles must be fought and won.
But we can
perhaps be excused for taking a moment to savor
the sweet successes weíve achieved so far.
than we realize, America will truly be "one
nation, under God, with liberty and justice for