DADT Minus 5
This September was the fifth anniversary of the day gay American patriots could begin serving proudly and openly in our armed forces. It came some 37 years after Leonard Matlovich sacrificed his Air Force career so that we could serve in dignity and honor. It came seventy years after LGBT patriots of the Greatest Generation volunteered to serve our nation in World War II. It came because people like Leonard Matlovich dared to speak up at a time when doing so meant certain punishment, exclusion, and oppression. When gay American patriots stepped forward to serve after the attack on Pearl Harbor, along with millions of other Americans, they knew they would have to live a lie and stay silent and hidden in order to avoid being shot in the back. It took true courage and true patriotism! Leonard Matlovich, also, knew that when he came out he would be discharged despite his Purple Heart and Bronze Star for heroism and valor in Vietnam. His epitaph, that he wrote himself, is engraved on his tombstone at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC: "When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one."
In 1948, when President Harry Truman racially integrated our armed forces by Executive Order, the grandfathers of today's bigots were apoplectic with outraged opposition. They didn't want equality to disrupt their outdated way of life, their privilege of oppression. Ironically, it took some five years before true integration in our armed forces began to become a reality during the Korean War. It took nearly twenty years, after Truman's heroic order, for voting equality and other freedoms to begin to become a reality. Then, as now, there were people who fought President Johnson's progressive agenda.
And true to the fears of American bigots, our right to serve in our armed forces led to our right to marry whomever we please anywhere in America. After all, like other Americans, if we are good enough to serve our country, we're good enough to have full equality. But, for some reason there are those who are willing to waste all their time and energy trying to sabotage American progress.
Despite the bigots, on the other hand, every single gain of progress for LGBT Americans over the past 8 years is the direct result of the leadership of President Barack Obama who brought up our rights in his first and subsequent State of the Union speeches. Like Lincoln and Johnson, he was determined to advance equality as the American mission. To that end, his Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, carried that message to the rest of the nations of the world.
It has taken another five years, since the ban on gay service was repealed, but at long last Transgender American patriots have this year begun to be able to serve freely in Pride. Although it was officially determined that the inclusion of Transgender Americans in our armed forces would have a minimal impact in our military, its a fact that Transgender Americans are twice as likely to volunteer to serve as other Americans. The reason is simple: patriotism and courage.
Why have LGBT people been so determined to serve our nation? What motivates us to want to step forward to put ourselves in harms way? Why did we serve so long when we were unwelcome? Why have we demanded to be included, and like Leonard Matlovich, sacrificed so much to do so? Danny Ingram, past president of American Veterans for Equal Rights and perhaps the first person to be discharged under the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, put it in a succinct six word slogan: "My Duty, My Honor, My Right!"
Danny Ingram greets President Obama
following the signing of the repeal of DADT
-SFC Denny Meyer
Gay Vietnam Era Veteran