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Profiles in Patriotism

Sgt. Laquetta Nelson

Some Kind of Leader

By Denny Meyer

You 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.

Laquetta 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 Maryland.

At the 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.

In 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 headquarters.

While in Germany, she coached the Würzburg High School Girl's Basketball Team which competed on military bases throughout Germany.

Later, 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 Leadership Course.

Our 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.

Sgt. 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.

After 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 sexual orientation.

After 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).

Ah, but 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.  She convened the first LGBT caucus meeting at the New Jersey State Democratic Conference.

She 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.

When 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.

In 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.

Many 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.

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8  Gay Military Signal