Some Kind of Leader
could look at Laquetta Nelson, a kindly middle aged
social worker, and never realize that she qualified as an
expert with hand grenades and M16 rifle. You
meet all kinds of interesting people! But, not
to worry, she's a patriot who served as a sergeant in
the United States Army from 1979 to 1984.
was the oldest of nine children growing up in
Washington DC in a family that had nearly nothing to
live on except a Carolina culture of southern
community resilience, self respect, and
determination. She did not describe herself as a
tidy little girl in polished patent leather shoes, pig
tails and pretty dresses. She was a tough kid
who wrestled boys and won; well, there is an element
of southern culture that's about smart girls who can
shoot straight and be a caution. She graduated
from high school and went on to the University of
university she married and things looked
promising. But, alas, it didn't work out; she
was faced with responsibility for a child and she was
not about to start scrubbing other people's
floors. She volunteered and joined the United
States Army. Her father and two brothers were
Marines. She did not join to try to become
straight; like so many others, she did not discover
her orientation until she was in the service.
She joined, in the family tradition, in order to
become strong and self-reliant.
boot camp she became a squad leader.
After advanced training she became one of the
best among the best in the 123rd Signal
Battalion stationed in Würzburg,
Germany. She became a Multi Channel
Communications Equipment operator, enabling
telephone networks between the front lines and
Germany, she coached the Würzburg High
School Girl's Basketball Team which
competed on military bases throughout Germany.
at Ft. Bragg she attended the 18th Airborne Corps NCO
Academy where she got top honors competing with the
men and women of the 82nd Airborne Div.
Following her training, Sgt. Nelson became a
leadership instructor in the 35th Signal Brigade
Army is a sterling example to the world; uniquely,
where American women and men of all races,
ethnicities, and backgrounds serve proudly together
progressing on the merit of their performance. Regrettably,
our military still harbors some who do not belong:
criminals, racists, and other losers who are not
capable of understanding American values nor of
working with others in our proudly diverse armed
forces. Sgt. Nelson was assaulted twice.
She was not assaulted because she is black, lesbian,
or female; she was attacked
by ignorant individuals who needed to compensate for
their inadequacy with brutality. She was
assaulted by those who did not deserve the honor of
wearing an American uniform. Our military must
weed out and prohibit those who are offended by
leadership and excellence so that service members such
as Sgt. Nelson, who was commended by her commandant
for her academic proficiency and leadership, may serve
in freedom without oppression.
Nelson's leadership career in the US Army was cut
short; she suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
resulting from being attacked by inferiors among our
own troops. She needed to be able to raise her
daughter in a safe environment. She received an
honorable discharge. The loss to the US Army, of
experience, training, and leadership, is incalculable.
having been a respected leader as an Army Sergeant,
Ms. Nelson reentered the civilian world where backward
expectations regarding women of color and women
veterans remained as hindrances to her being able to
transition to a stable life as she had planned.
She became homeless and despondent. As
it happened, she was helped by a Buddhist community of
faith that recognized her strength of character rather
than concerning themselves with her gender, color, or
retiring from a twenty year career as a bus driver, Ms.
Nelson has at long last completed a degree in Philosophy
(Rutgers 2001) and and a Masters in Social Work
(Delaware State Univ).
that is not all. Do not imagine for a moment
that she could have spent all those years without
being a leader. Seventeen years ago, in 1992,
she was asked to become a Democratic District Leader
and served representing Newark, NJ for three years. She joined the New Jersey Lesbian and Gay
Coalition and was among the first to speak with
legislators at Democratic National Committee offices
in Washington regarding LGBT issues. In 2000, as
an at large executive board member, she founded the
New Jersey chapter of Stonewall Democrats and served
as its president for three years.
LGBT caucus meeting at the New Jersey State Democratic
knew how to lead her LGBT constituents and community
to persuade elected officials to sign on to domestic
partnership laws and later organized support for a
senator and governor.
Sakia Gunn, a black lesbian teenager, was murdered,
"a chill went up my spine," she said.
She had to do something. With James
Credle, she began reaching out to the
disenfranchised LGBT community, the Newark City
Council, and Newark's African American
community. Enforcement of State hate crimes
legislation was demanded. She began organizing
the LGBT community, which under her leadership marched
for the first time in Newark's African American Parade
in order to own the fact that LGBT citizens shared in
the pride of the greater Newark community.
2007 they formed a coalition of groups to establish
the Newark Pride Alliance to provide understanding of
the needs and concerns of the LGBT community, visibility,
education, and the creation of Newark's first
safe-space LGBT community center.
years ago the Army lost a rising leader. The
State of New Jersey gained one. She has not
simply advocated for rights, she has provoked their
enactment. She has not simply advocated for self
respect and safety for the LGBT citizens of Newark,
she has evoked the potential for their freedom by co-founding the haven where self determination may
flourish and where discrimination has no place.
Gay Military Signal