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Profiles in Patriotism

A Soldier Speaks

Danny Ingram
American Veterans for Equal Rights
Southern Region Vice President

By Denny Meyer

Danny Ingram bears the dubious distinction of being one of the first Americans discharged under the Don't Ask Don't Tell law.  It's a bit of a story.

Danny grew up on his grandfather's multi-generational farm in rural Georgia.  His grandfather had served in the US Navy, in the Pacific, during WWII.  His great uncle served in the Army Air Corps in WWII and Korea, starting as a mechanic and retiring as a Lt. Colonel.  The family was deeply religious; dancing, movies, card playing, alcohol and nearly everything else was forbidden.  Faith and resilient self-reliance, as taught by his grandmother, were the guiding influences of his youth.  It was only after he left that environment and isolation that he realized he was gay, while attending Emory University in Atlanta.

Danny is a decisive sort of person who has made a career of meaningful life-changing decisions.  Some of those at first sounded rather wild and reckless; but each was a matter of being true to himself.  One of the first was to drop the idea of entering a seminary and becoming a clergyman.  Another early choice was to join the Army Reserve, in 1988.

"What were you thinking, joining the military knowing that you are gay?" I asked him.
He told me, "I wanted to do something for my country, I wanted to feel I was doing something good; and it would be an adventure.  It made me mad when people told me I couldn't do that (because I was gay); I wanted to do it!"  (Those words set off an echo in my head as those were my own exact thoughts 20 years earlier.  One might wonder if there is something about young gay men making the same choices despite one being a rural southern Christian and the other an urban northeastern Jew; but I realized, its not about being gay, what we have in common is being American).

In his six years of service, Danny Ingram was an Admin. Specialist, Materials and Supply Handling Specialist, and Warehouse Operator.  His work involved direct supply and support to the front lines, delivering food, fuel, and body bags among other items.  Among the decorations he earned were sharpshooter badges  for rifle and grenade launcher and a marksman badge for M60 machine gun, an Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal, and an Army Achievement Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster.

Danny would likely have gone on for twenty years of selfless service; but complacency is not one of his attributes.  When the first President Clinton promised, during his campaign, to lift the ban on gays in the military, Danny believed the promise.  He did not want people to think that gays had not been serving all along.  It was not in his nature to wait and see what happened; he decided to speak out then and there.  As Leonard Matlovitch had done 20 years earlier, he wrote a letter to his commanding officer saying that being able to be open would enhance the service of gay people who have always served their nation.  He did not say that he was gay.  But when the questioning began, he was in fact asked.  This was before the "Don't Ask" provision and the rest of the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy was actually put into law.  He answered forthrightly, in writing, that he was gay.  Oy vey.

That courageous honesty resulted in a hearing that was remarkable in the respect of the convening officers and NCOs for his truthfulness and integrity.  The First Sgt at the hearing was black and the Unit Commander was Latino.  The commander told him, "My grandfather had to get his ass kicked so that I could be in the US Army; the First Sgt.'s grandfather got his ass kicked so that he could serve; now, Ingram, you will get your ass kicked so your people can serve."  It was bluntly and  rather crudely put, but incredibly respectful of who he was considering the circumstance.

A final decision was put on hold for over six months, while everyone awaited word from the newly elected president.  During this time, he was at first put on alternative duty away from his unit; but when he and his commander came to realize that none of his peers had any problem nor discomfort with him working among them, he resumed his normal duties.  When all discharges due to homosexuality were suspended while the issue was in turmoil inside the beltway in DC, his commander said, "Ingram, you may get what you want."

At the hearing, several other officers had also expressed that they saw no reason why a gay person, and Sgt. Ingram in particular, should not be allowed to serve with them.  But, the prosecutor made it clear that, according to regulations, homosexuality was incompatible with military service.  In 1948 President Truman had integrated Black Americans into our armed forces by executive order, setting the stage for the civil rights and prohibitions of discrimination that followed in the next 20 years.  Some of the respect Danny Ingram received from his hearing panel seemingly was because it was fully expected that President Clinton would follow suit and begin the liberation of Gay Americans by executive order to the military.

Instead, a so-called compromise was enacted by Congress that prohibited gay service members from speaking about who they were, and from engaging in homosexuality, while being allowed to serve in silence.  Although Danny admitted to being gay before this policy was enacted, he was nevertheless among the first to be discharged under the new policy, honorably, due to homosexuality.

Danny is some kind of hero.  While he was under investigation, he spoke out at a rally, for lifting the ban on gays, in front of the Pentagon.  He wrote letters, to President Clinton, Chairman of The Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, Senators and Congressmen.  All answered, some with remarkable support, in retrospect.

In his own words, Danny Ingram described the thinking that led to his actions and letters:

After meeting Margaret Cammermeyer and Joseph Steffan and reading their
 stories, I was so inspired by their courage and commitment that I
 couldn't keep silent on the issue any longer.  I didn't feel like I could
 remain safe and protected while others faced great sacrifice to fight my
 battle for me.  And I wanted my fellow soldiers to know that this was
 an issue for every unit in the military.  It wasn't just a few high
-profile cases.  It was an issue that affected everyone at every level, and
 everyone should be concerned about it.  So when candidate Bill Clinton
 announced that he would lift the ban I decided it was time for me to
 do something.  It was time for me to add fuel to the fire, to speak up
 so that everyone could see how many LGBT people there were in the
 military and why this policy was so offensive to our beliefs as soldiers
 about what we were sworn to defend.  In the six years that I served in the
 United States Army, writing that letter to General Roth probably came
 closest to my fulfilling my oath to defend the US Constitution than any
 other duty I performed in uniform.

Original text of my letter to my commander:

October 1, 1993

Commanding Officer
81st United States Army Reserve Command
East Point, Georgia 30344

Dear General Roth, 

I regret to inform you that due to Department of Defense Directive
 1332.14, which denies gay and lesbian persons the right to serve in the
 armed forces of the United States, I can no longer be considered
 compatible with military service.  While it has been my honor to serve in the
 U.S. Army for the past four years, I can no longer with clear conscience
 continue to serve as a gay soldier in an organization which
 discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation.    

During my period of service to the Army I have always strived to
 maintain a high level of military professionalism.  As a professional soldier
 I have never thought of my fellow soldiers as anything other than
 soldiers.  I have never approached any of my fellow soldiers, neither male
 nor female, in a sexual manner, nor have I ever engaged in an any
 sexual activity while I have been on duty or stationed on a military post.
  Such activity, regardless of sexual orientation, would be "inconsistent
 with maintaining good order and discipline" as stated by General

It is my belief that this unjust policy of discrimination on the basis
 of sexual orientation will soon end.  But I cannot accept what will
 undoubtedly be the military's perception that gay and lesbian persons have
 not served with honor and distinction during the period when the
 policy has been in effect.  It is particularly painful for me to think of
 the many names of gay young men on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington
 and know that the military does not even acknowledge the supreme
 sacrifice of the gay veterans who have given their lives in the defense of

I wish continued success to the United States Army.  I look forward to
 the day when our military is not only the guardian of the Constitution
 but the representatives of the freedom it insures for all Americans.
  My thoughts will continue to be with my fellow soldiers as they defend
 our nation at home and abroad.  

Danny Ingram
SGT, 81st United States Army Command   

cc Senator Sam Nunn 

Since leaving the Army, Danny has devoted his energy to gay and environmental activism, while earning his living as a university IT systems analyst.  He has founded an LGBT employees group and has worked to develop non-discrimination policies and to obtain domestic partner and other EEO benefits.  He has served on a university LGBT task force and commission to further understanding and recognition of basic rights.  He has won a university award and recognition for his advocacy.

Danny began his activist efforts even before his departure from the Army, co-sponsoring one of the first World AIDS Day Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt displays in his area.  He has led and volunteered in local environmental efforts that have been awarded for community green advocacy programs.

He has been the coordinator of his parish AIDS Outreach Ministries and served for years a volunteer at a local hospital's AIDS/HIV ward.  He has sponsored several children in Latin America via the Christian Children's Fund.  And he is a liturgical cantor and a member of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians.  Where does he find the time for all this!  But, there's more.

In local politics, he was a founding member of a state LGBT Caucus, and has been a driving force at the county level, as well, where he successfully passed a resolution requesting Congresswoman Cynthia
McKinney to support the Military Readiness Enhancement Act which resulted in her becoming a co-sponsor of the bill that would repeal the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy and prohibit discrimination against sexual minorities in the military.

As a gay veteran, Danny co-founded and serves as the coordinator of the Atlanta Pride Military Color and Honor Guard.  He is the president of American Veterans For Equal Rights Georgia Chapter, and the Region 1 (Southern) Vice President--coordinating AVER chapters in the southern US.

Oh, and in his spare time (???), Danny played in the LGBT Hotlanta Softball League for 6 years and
served as a league official for 4 years, including one term as league commissioner.  He wrote a weekly sports column for a LGBT publication called Etcetera Magazine for 10 years.

Just imagine what he could do if he had any ambition!  Rather, he devotes all his time to furthering rights, helping others, and preserving nature in the world around him.

  2007  Gay Military Signal