|America: July 4th, 2006, Vol. 1, Issue 1||
From the Editor:
New York, July 4th 2006
Sgt Denny's Rant
Recently, USA Today asked me for a sound bite on "What it means to be an American in 2006." Its a fair enough question for a mainstream national daily publication for an Independence Day story; and I thought it was significant that they took the trouble to seek comment from a national gay spokesperson. It got me to thinking 'what it means to be a Gay American Veteran in 2006'; and that led me to consider all my various identities. I am gay, first generation American, a veteran, Jewish, an activist, a cancer survivor, and disabled. The list goes on, and at various times in my life the order of identities shifted and combined in different forms. My perspective is that of a senior citizen (yet another identity). As I progressed through life's stages, I thought of myself as a first generation Jewish American, Judeo-Queer teen, gay, sailor, soldier, sergeant, American veteran, AIDS widower, gay Jew, activist Gay American, cancer victim, cancer survivor, gay disabled senior, and cranky old fart.
It is with all that baggage that I now write, with anger, what it means to be a Gay American Veteran in 2006.
I'm not particularly brave, just stubborn. I came of age in the 1960s, which meant that I rejected anyone telling me what to do. If I was told, "You can't do that." I thought, "The hell I can't!" Quitting the blissful life of a 'gay college student trollop' and joining the US Navy was, in retrospect, not a particularly brilliant decision. But, I did it out of patriotism, at the height of the Vietnam War, as a child of WWII refugees to American Freedom. I thought of it, at the time, as an adventure; it was a sacrifice. It was also the start of a proud ten year, two service, military career. While keeping my mouth shut about homophobic jokes and remarks, I was notorious for speaking up about discrimination against other minorities. I left as a Sergeant First Class so that I could live the freedom that I'd sworn to defend over and over during reenlistments.
Willet Fields, WWII Veteran
Willet Fields comes across like an ordinary 91 year old. He's serene, happy, healthy, and gregarious. He's also a World War II Veteran, and very out and gay. He's got an infectious smile that makes you want to hug him like a teddy bear; and he's so easy going that he doesn't mind if you do. The only clue that he is someone special is the little piece of cloth with the rows of WWII ribbons pinned to his old garrison cap which he wore to march in the New York City Pride Parade this year. Oh, and then there was the little sign saying "GAY WWII VET" which he proudly and gleefully carried past a million thunderously cheering spectators on Fifth Avenue and down Christopher Street.
Like so many of The Greatest Generation, He was
drafted into the Army in 1941 as a Private. After the war, he
decided that the Army was a good life and stayed in, rising right
through the ranks, over the course of 28 years of service,
becoming a Warrant Officer, Chief Warrant Officer, 2nd Lt., Lt.,
Captain, and ultimately retired as a Major in 1974.
RADM Alan M. Steinman, USCG / USPHS (Ret)
Gay, lesbian, and bisexual (GLB) Americans are serving their country honorably in every branch of our Armed Forces in this time of war. Yet the "Donít Ask, Donít Tell" (DADT) law requires them to serve in silence, to lie about who they are, and to violate the very code of honor they are defending by their service. Gay servicemen and women are fighting for their country, being wounded for their country, and even dying for their country. Yet Congress and the Pentagon seem unaware that these brave men and women have to serve in fear of being discovered, fear of being kicked out simply for who they are, or worse, fear of harassment or violence. Our nation needs to appreciate that gay men and women in the military are as patriotic, physically and mentally fit, and mission capable as their straight counterparts. In the Armed Forces, courage, commitment and devotion to duty matter, not sexual orientation.
Since I came out publicly in 2003 on the 10th anniversary of DADT, I have had the privilege of meeting hundreds of GLBT veterans, many of them still on active duty. Surprisingly, many of them are also serving with the knowledge of their peers, and sometimes even with the knowledge of their commands, all without problems. Their experiences, and those of the estimated 65,000 GLB service men and women currently on active duty will help convince the American public, Congress, and the Administration that DADT is unnecessary and harmful to our national security.
The "Donít Ask, Donít Tell" law dates from 1992, when then Presidential candidate Bill Clinton promised to allow GLB Americans to serve openly in the military. On January 29, 1993, shortly after his inauguration, President Clinton suspended the existing Department of Defense policy which banned gay and lesbian personnel from military service. However, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and influential members of Congress vehemently opposed the Presidentís attempt to permanently lift the ban. This led to six months of intense Congressional and Administration discussions and hearings on the issue. The end result was the infamous "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law. It was inserted into the 1994 National Defense Authorization Act and represented a so-called compromise between the President, who wanted to allow GLB members to serve openly, and the Pentagon and its Congressional allies who wanted to totally ban them. Under DADT, the military would not inquire about the sexual orientation of current and future service members. GLB men and women would be allowed to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces unless they declared they are gay, attempted to marry a person of the same sex, or engaged in homosexual conduct. Service members who were discovered to be homosexual would be subject to dismissal. The compromise did nothing to protect GLB service members from harassment, and it paradoxically resulted in a dramatic increase in GLB discharges.