In mid October, American Veterans for Equal Rights was invited to
participate in "Diversity and Unity Day" aboard Marine Corps Base
Camp Lejeune on coastal North Carolina. Three members of Georgia
Chapter made the eight hour drive to participate in the event at
Lejeune, "Home of Expeditionary Forces in Readiness." We were joined
there on Friday by members of who helped us distribute information, share personal stories, and
discuss issues about LGBT veterans, service members, and our
families. We participated in the event with other military minority
groups - Jewish, Latino, Women, African-Americans, Pacific Islanders
- who were there to share their history, their service, and their
contributions to the United States Marine Corps and other branches
of our nation's military. I met one of the first African-American
Marines, a World War II veteran from a segregated military, and one
of the first women Marines, a veteran of the Korean War. Our story
as LGBT Americans and our fight for the right to serve was in no way
Left: AVER's display at Diversity and Unity Day
Above: Danny Ingram and AVER GA President Jesse Dennis with Sergeant Major Paul A. Berry, Sergeant Major of the post
We shared photos of LGBT veterans and service members from General
Friedrich von Steuben to Generals Patricia Rose and Tammy Smith.
We displayed our Soldier's Shrine dedicated to Major
Alan G. Rogers,
and shared the stories of Andrew Wilfahrt and Donna Johnson. We
spoke with veterans, service members, and many school children. We
met Lejeune Deputy Commander Colonel Yori R. Escalante, himself the
son of a Spanish family, and Sergeant Major Paul A. Berry, Sergeant
Major of the Post. He and I shared the same words: "Its all about
learning to respect each other."
On the previous day we placed a wreath proudly bearing a ribbon of AVER - American Veterans for Equal Rights, Inc. at the Beirut Memorial on the 31st anniversary of the terrorist attack on the Beirut Barracks that took the lives of 240 United States Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers. We read a poem, played taps, and placed the wreath. We were joined by Soldiers and Sailors from Outserve. It was a very moving experience.
AVER's wreath at the Beirut Memorial, reading the poem The Other Wall at the Memorial
To me the experience at Camp Lejeune was a homecoming. Sometimes you have to visit a new place to come home. At Lejeune I was an openly gay man and a respected member of the military family. I repeated over and over again to many people how honored we were to be invited to participate in this event. And they could not have asked for a better, more honorable, or informative presentation. Part of our mission at American Veterans for Equal Rights is education, and we can be very proud that this goal was achieved at Camp Lejeune in the very best traditions of the United States military and the veterans and active duty military who serve to defend our freedom. Diversity is a strength, both in our nation and in our military. LGBT service members and veterans are part of that diversity.
There is a story I have shared before about my discharge from the military. My commanding officer called me into his office. He was Latino. The First Sergeant, also present, was African-American. Major Jimenez said to me "Sergeant Ingram, my Granddaddy had to get his ass kicked so that I could be an officer in the United States Army." He looked over at Top. "The First Sergeant's Daddy had to get his ass kicked so that the First Sergeant could serve in the same US Army as you and I. And now, Sergeant Ingram, you are going to get your ass kicked so that your people can someday serve in the United States Army." Twenty years have passed. At Camp Lejeune, "my" people are now serving. We were Black Marines and Latino Marines. Women Marines. And Gay Marines. Together at "Diversity and Unity Day." This was homecoming. There is much work to be done. More ass-kicking awaits. But I was home. Thank you to the Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines, living and dead, who welcomed me home.
Danny Ingram, National President Emeritus
American Veterans for Equal Rights