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Imagining Freedom

At the VA, the nurses often go down a routine checklist with each patient while they check the vitals, usually asking, "Are you a diabetic?"  Being a compulsive wise-ass, I usually respond by joking, "No, I'm Jewish."  My mother, who was a Holocaust refugee from Nazi Germany, could not have imagined such freedom.  If she had made that silly little joke, back then in her country, she and her family would have been arrested and shipped off to a  concentration camp.

In nearly all of our allied nations. a military nurse might routinely ask, "Do you have a girlfriend?," while offering a brochure on safe sex.  Gay soldiers, in those countries, could freely respond, "no, I'm gay."    But, not here in America, not yet.  Why the hell are roughly 29 countries, many of which we liberated during WWII, nearly 20 years ahead of us in basic freedom?

Why do Dan Choi, Katie Miller, Robin Chaurasiya, and I, whose parents or grandparents came here as immigrants, still have to imagine freedom to be who we are while voluntarily serving the country we were born in?   Each of us had been determined to "pay our country back" for our families freedom.  And yet, we ourselves were not free to be who we are.  Those who reared us had struggled to learn English, and had sacrificed everything to get here to this land of freedom and unlimited equal opportunity.  My mother arrived in 1938 as an illegal immigrant and at first cleaned toilets to earn a living.  She became an American citizen, worked diligently and retired from a career as a real estate broker and shop owner.  All of our parents taught us that "there is nothing more precious than American freedom."  The proudest days, for each of our parents, was our arriving home from training resplendent in our American armed forces uniforms.  For them, that made everything they had been through worth it!

We were and still are proud, too.  Here in America, it made no difference if you were male or female, Jewish or Christian or Hindu, European or Asian American, black or white; all that mattered was that we were American.  BUT, it did matter that we were gay.  So, why did we join, knowing that?  Because our parents taught us, by their own example, that here in America you can be whatever you want, no matter who you are, so long as you work hard to achieve.  They could not have been expected to know that their own gay children would be excluded.  They didn't even know we were gay.

We did not have to imagine freedom.  Our lives were so different from where our parents came from.  We grew up hearing the stories, we visited the old country, we knew and appreciated the difference.  In Nazi Germany, Jews had to live in hiding; children had to be kept silent at al times.  Here in America, our parents never told us to be quiet, we could laugh and shout as much as we wanted; it was a celebration of freedom.  And yet, I had to serve in silence for ten years in my own country, America, never once daring to say who I was, fearing discovery every single day.  I carried on serving all that time because I wanted to pay for my family's freedom.  Imagine that.

Soon the silence will end.  The day we thought unthinkable will arrive when today's gay and lesbian service members wont have to hide to hug the one they love.  For those of us who served long ago and those disgraced by discrimination, dishonorably discharged for who they are,  many told me that they cried when the vote for repeal of DADT passed.  Their careers cannot be restored, nor can the bitterness of past prejudice be erased; but as our parents did, we will now live to see the current generation serve in freedom and pride.

-Sgt First Class Denny Meyer

  2011 Gay Military Signal