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My Atlanta Pride

by

Danny Ingram
President, American
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 superior job.
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 great time.

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.

And I 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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  2012 Gay Military Signal