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Pride and Victory:
Now what?

We now serve openly and proudly in our armed forces with full and equal benefits.  Our marriages are now legal in eighteen states (more or less, depending on the day of the week)! Nearly every weekend there are news stories of yet another couple getting married on a military base.  Its almost boring, but not yet.  Discrimination in high and low places still needs to be battled.  We're not done yet!

Since the Supreme Court's repeal of DOMA some six months ago, nearly every federal agency has aggressively acted to reach out to LGBT Americans to provide us with equal benefits.  The Department of Defense has been among those in the forefront to change its culture and regulations to reflect the new reality of equality for those of us on active duty.  But, the Veterans Administration has a bit of catching up to do.

To be sure, the VA has had LGBT programs in a few VAMCs around the country for years now, and the list is growing; and there are now national VA LGBT Program Coordinators.  Inpatient LGBT PTSD programs have begun. There's even a new 'LGBT welcoming poster' you can see on the walls in odd places at VAs everywhere.  It says: "We serve all who served" and has rainbow dog tags and a stethoscope on an American Flag background.  Considering past history, its amazing.  But, some clueless VA clerks, it seems, have photocopied it in black and white to tape to walls, so you can't really see the rainbow dog tags, nor notice that its anything special.  It just looks like all the other dull bureaucratic crap taped up around it, reminding you to 'tell someone' if you have chest pain, diarrhea, or diabetes.  Considering how excited I'd been to be consulted on the development of that poster, it made me cringe in sad horror to see it, at last, on the wall in a boring waiting room, on plain paper in blurry grey photocopied glory, amidst other pasted-up dreary notices at one VA I visited.  The sharp clever color graphics were gone, it was almost invisible.  Some day soon, that is the way it should be: that LGBT vets' inclusion is as routine as that of any other old vets.  But, we're not there yet.  Many LGBT vets, especially older folks, need to see a bright big color poster telling them that they don't have to hide who they are to get the healthcare they earned serving and sacrificing silently in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.  In fact all LGBT veterans who served in silence before and during DADT in the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan deserve to see their service and sacrifice recognized, at long last, with relevant and competent treatment and benefits, and rainbow colored dog tags on a VA poster welcoming them.

So, there is significant progress, but unfortunately discrimination persists in macro and micro permutations across the nation.  Colorado's senior Senator, Mark Udall, has been urgently campaigning for the VA to recognize same sex marriages, as all other federal agencies do, because some bureaucrats there still seem stuck on out-of-date obscure legalities which should have been voided when the Supreme Court repealed DOMA.  He recently wrote about that for GayMilitarySignal in a December 2013 article, and in mid January 2014 wrote a letter to the Department of Justice, along with other members of Congress, urging enforcement to end the discrimination.

At the bottom end of the scale, its sadly clear that the VA needs to immediately implement mandatory non-discrimination training for all employees and volunteers, again, to include intolerance of homophobia.  During a recent VA Shuttle Van trip, this year, two Vietnam Era vets, one gay and one black, had to suffer hearing the driver tell jokes that disrespected various minorities.  The most offensive of which mentioned "hating faggots" and ended with two gay men being "tortured and beaten bloody by Klansmen, just as if they were black."  The point of the joke, apparently, was that 'violence against gays and blacks is supposed to be funny.'  The crude ignorant driver wore an official VA employee ID hanging from his neck.  A complaint was filed.  Despite clear non-discrimination policies and procedures, most bureaucracies tend to discourage decisive resolution of such situations.  But, in 2014, neither vet in the van should have had to listen to that kind shit at all!

By most measures, the VA provides some of best medical care on Earth.  Through service to their nation, our vets, young and old, have earned that care, often from profound sacrifice resulting in severe disability.  Every vet has earned the right to be treated with respect and dignity regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity.  I just think that America's largest healthcare provider should be able to get it together to ensure equality for those who served and sacrificed for their nation.  The inertia on equality is likely more due to bureaucracy than bigotry.

While the local issues can be resolved with alacrity by folks dedicated to the progress of equality; the issue of marriage equality might yet require further jurisprudence and or legislation, both of which require the patience of an arborist.

Via DEERS, the Department of Defense oversees the TRICARE healthcare system for retired vets (those who served 20+ years).  Within weeks of the repeal of DOMA, retired vets were able to get ID cards and full medical care for their same sex spouses, on the same day that they applied, regardless of the state they live in, regardless of the status of marriage equality of the state they live in.  Yet, some six months later, the VA is still buried deep in bureaucratic stagnation, denying equality.  Why?  Ask your Congressman.

GayMilitarySignal.com is devoted to advocating the rights and benefits of LGBT veterans and service members; but, discrimination still abounds against all of our brothers and sisters nationwide, despite all the recent Pride and Victory we've seen.  Transgender and Gay Americans are still being murdered daily across the nation.  Perfectly legal housing and employment discrimination continues in a majority of states.  An entire national political party is dedicated to denying equality.  For many LGBT Americans, the American Dream is still a nightmare because simple basic equality is denied just because of who we are.  So, despite the rightful dancing and celebration in victorious Pride parades; we are not done yet folks.  This is just the beginning of the battle for full equality.  Yes, celebrate, but then don't sit back and relax; its back to 'out of the bars and into the streets,' back to demanding and demonstrating, and negotiating, and supporting those who legislate for our rights.

I'm still proud as hell of my service; I'd do it all again if I could.  This is my country; it was my honor, my duty, and my right to serve.  It still is.

Carry on,
-Sgt Denny

2014 GayMilitarySignal