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The first anniversary of the
end of Don't Ask Don't Tell

September 20th is now a new official gay holiday; the day that DADT ended.  To those who never served, it may be a dubious day to remember.  To the more than one million living gay and lesbian American veterans who served in silence from World War II through the war in Iraq (OIF), it means a hell of a lot.  To those now serving in pride, it is a promise kept which has unchained our patriotic gay and lesbian volunteers from the burden of bigotry.  Although there is no comparison to the discrimination suffered by Black Americans who served so valiantly through WWII, the lifting of the ban on open gay service is of equal significance to President Truman's 1948 Executive Order integrating our armed forces.  It is worth noting that it took nearly twenty years, following that order, for racial equality to become enshrined in law; and it took exactly sixty years, following that order, for our nation's first Black President to be elected.

It is by no means a coincidence that this first minority president, Barak Obama, gave our gay service members freedom from an official policy of prejudice. He is the embodiment of what it means to be American, carrying within his flesh the soul of who we are--united uniquely among nations, black and white, a son of the great plains of Kansas and the blue Hawaiian waters, and the 11th great grandson of an American slave, who rose above the bigotry and ignorance of others.  One cannot be more American than he is.  He kept his word on legalizing our right to choose to serve in pride, as well as on healthcare equality, and the hopes and dreams of so many ordinary Americans.  Along with all of them, I wept with joy and hope on the night he was elected, and I wept when DADT was at long last repealed; I wept as the son of an illegal immigrant; and I wept as an old gay Sgt. First Class who served in silence for ten years.  All that, in awe of his courage despite the hate mongers, media whores, and misers who have exerted every effort to make him and our nation fail.  Not since Truman, who was president when I was born, have we seen a leader with such steel balls.

The first anniversary of this day brings back memories, first, of the courage of two gay men, whom I had the honor of knowing, who served our nation and who began the battle for our rights: Dr. Franklin Kameny and TSGT Leonard Matlovich.  Nearly forty years ago, in the dark days of dishonorable discharges due to homosexuality, it was Frank Kameny, a World War II combat veteran, who sought a service member of pure heart and sterling character to be a test case for the right to serve openly in pride.  Lenny Matlovich had the courage to step forward with his Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his wound and valor in Vietnam.  Dr. Kameny lived to see the day, September 20th, 2011, that his work had begun.  He died less than a month later after a lifetime of battling for our rights.  SGT Matlovich lived long enough to see his discharge reversed.  Determined to leave a legacy, knowing that AIDS would soon end his life, he created his own epitaph at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington D.C. where his tombstone reads, "A Gay Vietnam Veteran.  When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men, and a discharge for loving one."

LGBT Americans have served in every era, war, and battle in American history.  At Valley Forge, in the cold winter of 1778 at the height of the American Revolution, there were four gay soldiers that we now know of, including the first known to be discharged due to homosexual conduct, and three heroes without whom we would not have become a free nation.  COL Aaron Burr prosecuted and discharged LT Frederick Enslin, ritually breaking his sword over his head, ripping his rank insignia off his uniform, and dismissing him horseless into the Pennsylvania wilderness, never to be seen or heard from again.  Meanwhile, LTG Friedrich Von Steuben arrived there from Europe with his male partner, recruited by Benjamin Franklin to train the Continental Army.  General Washington assigned two inseparable soldiers to assist him with translation, twenty year old LTC Alexander Hamilton and his lover twenty four year old LTC John Laurens (Whose father, Henry Laurens, was President of the Continental Congress that year).  They don't teach you this stuff in junior high school.  Laurens later died in battle.  Alexander Hamilton went on to become the nation's first Secretary of the Treasury.  Von Steuben is memorialized in a monument in Lafayette Park across from the White House in Washington D.C. and an annual parade in New York City.  Aaron Burr went on to become the third Vice President of the United States of America; and the murderer of Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804.  Did he kill Hamilton because he disliked his economic policies, or because he had loved a man during our nation's battle for freedom?  Suffice it to say, our story goes on from there.

What does this day, September 20th, mean to me personally as an old gay veteran and son of an immigrant?  In the dark late 1930s, my mother escaped from Nazi Germany with a tiny suitcase and the cloths on her back, sailing in steerage across the North Atlantic in wartime winter.  She arrived at Ellis Island, within sight of the Statue of Liberty--our beacon of freedom, WOP (without papers) as an illegal alien refugee.  After much fussing with paperwork, she was allowed to stay, and work, as a resident alien.  Like many newcomers, she first cleaned toilets to earn a living.  She became a proud citizen, and some sixty years later retired as a shopkeeper and real estate broker.  Above all else, she raised me to believe that, "There is nothing more precious than American freedom!"  That was the reason why I volunteered and signed up to serve my country, despite being gay and unwelcome in our armed forces.  As she had to hide her religion in Germany, I had to hide who I was while serving my country for ten years.  It wasn't easy, but I never regretted joining and serving.  I wanted to pay my country back for my family's freedom, and I have always been proud to have done that.  Now, to have lived to see the day when gay Americans can serve our country in freedom, renews my faith in what my refugee mother taught me so long ago.  She had faith in America; she was right.

Denny Meyer, USN, SFC USAR, Gay Veteran

  2012 Gay Military Signal