By Denny Meyer
American Veterans for Equal Rights, America’s first national organization of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender armed forces veterans, held its biennial convention in the high desert splendor of Albuquerque New Mexico. AVER is the oldest most continuously resilient national LGBT veterans' service organization, advocating for our rights and benefits since 1990. This convention was the best ever as everyone present felt the palpable sense of Pride of the accumulated rank, years served, medals earned, and military accomplishments, collectively, of all the lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender veterans and active service members in the room! Air Force Major General Patricia Rose was the keynote speaker and with her wife, Navy LT Julie Roth, ret., was an inspiration to all of us who had served and were serving. GEN Rose presented AVER's Leonard Matlovich Medal to Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer, USA ret. Also present were USA Colonel Pat Thompson, ret., and her wife; AF Major Angelo Bonavita locally representing OutServe, The executive director of OutServe, and most importantly the room was filled with LGBT retired enlisted service members, many of them senior NCOs, and others who served only a few years.
The youngest and oldest gay military personnel and veterans shared their pride in service, from an active duty Army Specialist and his husband just starting a military family career, to James Darby, who served in the Navy in the 1950s, with his husband Patrick Bova who were among the first to become legally married in Illinois.
LTC Steve Loomis, US Army, retired, was reelected as President. Chief Julz Carey, US Coast Guard, retired, was reelected as Vice President. Former Sergeant Danny Ingram was reelected as Treasurer, and Staff Sergeant, James Apedaile, US Army, retired, was elected as Secretary.
AVER’s five national regions elected Regional Vice Presidents: Former Sergeant First Class Denny Meyer in Region 1 –Northeastern US, Staff Sergeant, James Apedaile US Army, retired, in Region II –Southern US, former Petty Officer James Darby in Region III –Midwestern US, MAJ Dorothy Seaton, USA, retired, Region IV –Southwestern US, and CPO Nick Jackman, USCG, retired, in Region V –Western US and HI. Denny Meyer was reappointed as national Public Affairs and Veterans Affairs Officer; Penn Baker remains national Transgender Veterans Liaison; and Patrick Bova remains as national Archivist.
In addition to the serious business of the convention electing officers and discussing the Mission, Vision and Goals of AVER, there was the serious business of visiting AVER Albuquerque's new LGBT Veteran's monument in the local traditional veterans memorial park where a ceremony was held memorializing our heroes including LT Harvey Milk, PFC Barry Winchell and others, with TAPS being played live by former AVER national president Danny Ingram.
Photos by Denny Meyer, Photo Captions by Danny Ingram:
Participants at AVER's 2016 25th anniversary convention placed a wreath
and performed taps at the
New Mexico LGBT Inclusive Memorial in
Albuquerque’s Veterans Memorial Park. The
ceremony also included a wreath placing at the
nearby Women’s Memorial where AVER Vice
President Julz Carey
was recognized as one of the first women to
serve aboard a United States military warship.
|New bricks donated by LGBT vets and other sponsors from across the country were dedicated by AVER National President LTC Steve Loomis and members of Albuquerque’s host Bataan Chapter.|
AVER National President Steve Loomis presents a
Life Membership Award to long-time AVER members Jim Darby and Patrick Bova, the
only participants to have attended
every National Convention since the inception of
the organization 25 years ago.
Jim and Pat were named plaintiffs in the successful Illinois same-sex marriage suit Darby v. Orr. Jim and Pat became one of the first same-sex couples to marry in Illinois and were invited to introduce President Barack Obama at the LGBT Pride event at the White House last year.
Panel discussion featuring local Chapter Presidents from around the country.
|The convention included an excursion to nearby Santa Fe where participants visited the New Mexico National Guard museum and were provided a lecture on the history of the Guard by retired Major General Fox, which included details of the infamous Bataan Death March for World War II.|
Convention participants gather on the old square in Santa Fe.
|Santa Fe’s openly gay mayor Javier Gonzales greeted convention participants and read a City of Santa Fe resolution declaring Friday, April 22, 2016 as American Veterans for Equal Rights Day in Santa Fe.|
|Air Force Major Angelo Bonavita of nearby Kirtland AFB and President of the Kirtland Chapter of OUTSERVE/SLDN delivers a presentation on the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and recognizes the Vietnam War veterans present at the convention.|
|AVER Life Member Jim Darby presents a history of the LGBT military veterans movement and our important role in bringing about changes for our community.|
|Colonel Patsy Thompson and her wife Barbara Brass speak as part of a presentation on the upcoming film Surviving the Silence, the story of their 30 year hidden relationship during the years when LGBT service members could not serve openly in the US military. Colonel Thompson was the presiding officer in the military tribunal that removed Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer from service following her disclosure that she is lesbian.|
|2016 Keynote speaker USAF Major General Patricia Rose, the highest ranking out officer in the United States military. General Rose attended the convention with her wife, Lt. Julie Roth, US Navy, retired.|
|The 25th anniversary convention included a panel that featured active duty US Army Specialist Jesse Dennis, MG Patricia Rose, and Life Members Jim Darby and Eric Alva, speaking on the continuing challenges faced by LGBT service members and veterans. Specialist Dennis, who attended the convention with his husband Zach Davis, provided a unique perspective on the life of a same-sex military couple on an active duty base and the unique challenges faced by the spouses of openly LGBT service members.|
|AVER National President Emeritus Danny Ingram addresses questions to Jim Darby on the importance of his veteran status in creating change for the national LGBT struggle for equality.|
|Very special guest Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer discusses her discharge and the changes that her fight to serve brought to the military, along with Barbara Brass and Colonel Patsy Thompson, the presiding officer in her military trial.|