Veterans For Equal Rights
I had the honor this year as
serving as one of the Grand Marshalls of the
2012 Atlanta Gay Pride Parade, which was held
on October 14th, in conjunction with
Atlanta's 42nd annual Gay Pride Celebration. In
preparation for the event I was asked to record
a video which was shown periodically throughout
the weekend on the jumbotron screen at the main
festival stage. In my video, I welcomed
everyone to "my hometown" and invited everyone
to "celebrate, lift each other up, and continue
the important work of defining our nation as the
largest, most diverse society in the history of
our world with equal rights, equal respect, and
equal responsibilities for every citizen."
||I rode as Grand Marshal sitting on top
of a beautiful white jeep with chrome star wheel
caps. I did not have to call cadence for the
color guard, because we had an active duty US
Army sergeant to do that, and he did a great
job. He was straight, and he was there with his
best friend, who was gay. Times have changed.
They both marched in full uniform in the color
guard. I was so proud of them. We had six
members of the color guard this year, 3 active
duty, 3 vets, one a retired LTC. Three men and
three women. They did a
|We were the first unit in the
parade. The color guard was followed by 3 jeeps,
one for me, one for Colonel Arlene
Ackerman and our Vietnam vets
(commemorating the 50th anniversary of
the Vietnam War), and one for our WW2
and Korea vets.
Periodically the parade would come to a stop and
I had the chance to talk to people in the crowd.
I thanked them for being there and I told them
"Our country is more free today because you come
out to be visible and proud of who you are."
Sometimes I would see young folks and ask them
how many Pride events they had attended. Several
times it was their first Pride. I asked them how
it made them feel. Young men and women, our
kids, saying things like "fantastic" and
"wonderful". I told them that's what we were
there for. People cheered for them. I told
people that the young soldiers and sailors in
our color guard were active duty, and the crowd
cheered for them. I waved, I saluted, I had a
At 6 PM members of AVER took the main stage for
our taps ceremony. We had vets on the stage from
World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the First Gulf
War, Iraq, and Afghanistan, including active
duty service members. We got quite an ovation. I
spoke about the constitution, the words that
define America. I read Article XIV, section 1,
the Equal Rights Clause, and I challenged
every elected official and candidate to honor
their pledge to defend the constitution.
concluded my remarks with "And these are the
words for which Staff Sergeant Donna R. Johnson
gave her life 13 days ago while defending our
nation's freedom overseas." I played taps.
People cheered and wept. US Army Staff Sergeant Donna R. Johnson has
become the first known married lesbian soldier
killed in action. SSG Johnson was one of three
soldiers killed by a suicide bomber in Khost,
Afghanistan, on October 1st. SSG Johnson is
survived by her wife, Tracy Dice.
Our nation has changed. SSG Johnson was able to
marry her love and serve openly in the US Army.
But SSG Johnson's widow will not receive the
standard benefits from the US military for the
loss of her spouse. She might not receive the
flag from her coffin nor her posthumous Purple
Heart. Those cannot replace their enduring
love, but they serve as symbols of our nation's
gratitude for their sacrifice. There is
still work to be done.
Wind to your wings, Sergeant Johnson. Thank you
for your service.
The backdrop for our Pride tent was an 8X10 foot
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs flag, signed for me
by Admiral Mike Mullen on board the USS Intrepid
in New York City. I had many active duty service
members come by from all over the southeast, as
far away as Texas and Ft. Campbell, Kentucky.
For many of them, it was their first Pride
event. We shared our booth with the VA for the
first time, and many vets were able to ask
questions directly from representatives of the
VA. The VA marched with us for the first time in
the Pride Parade.
People asked me why they should join AVER. After
a while I just started pointing them to the
large photo of me with President Obama at the
Repeal signing ceremony. "Because we did that,"
I told them. I went on to explain our ongoing
mission. Upgrade discharges so our vets can
access the VA. Work as a Veterans Service
Organization to help our vets get their
benefits. Pair recently returning vets with
older vets who can help them overcome PTSD,
alcohol, and drug problems, just as they did.
Work to get full benefits for the partners of
our active duty service members. Act as a
watchdog to make sure the military is living up
to its promise not to mistreat LGB service
members, and continue to fight for the right for
transgender Americans to serve their country in
the US military. Honor our service, especially
the seniors who handed us this great nation. And
use our status as honored veterans to gain
marriage equality for LGBT Americans. We went to
the Pentagon and spoke to fellow service members
as proud vets who supported the US military and
could assure them that lifting the ban would not
the harm the military but would make the armed
forces stronger and more effective. No one else
could have done that. That is what we have done
since 1990; that is what we do today; that will
be our place in
history. Thank you for your service.
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