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Rear Adm. Alan M. Steinman, MD, USPHS/USCC (Ret), photo: Kmetz

A salute to America's Lesbian, Gay,
Bisexual, and Transgender Veterans


Chicago’s Salute to LGBT Veterans


RADM Alan M. Steinman

I recently had the privilege of serving as keynote speaker at a remarkable public event. On June 21 in the middle of the workday in the center of downtown Chicago (Daley Plaza), the city officially saluted the contributions and service of LGBT veterans. This was the fifth such event that Chicago has staged on our behalf. It was the original idea of Jim Darby, stalwart president of the Chicago chapter of the American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER) who in 2003 worked tirelessly with Chicago officials to gain recognition for LGBT veterans. Rochelle Crump, the former Director of Chicago’s Advisory Council on Veterans Affairs was instrumental in advocating for and founding this event. And it has been an annual affair every year since.

This year’s Salute was co-sponsored by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) and by Log Cabin Republicans (LCR). Jean Albright from SLDN and David Valkema from LCR deserve special recognition for their efforts in making this event a success. But above all, I would like to recognize Bill Greaves of Chicago’s City Commission on Human Relations. Bill is the Director/Community Liaison for the Advisory Council on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues, and it was upon his shoulders that Mayor Daley placed responsibility for making this event happen. Tammy Duckworth, the State of Illinois Director of Veterans’ Affairs was originally scheduled to speak at the event, but unavoidable circumstances prevented her from doing so.

There are two unique aspects of this event that, for me, makes the Salute important. First and foremost, Chicago is the only major municipality in America to formally recognize LGBT Veterans. That fact is both gratifying and sad at the same time; it is gratifying to have the nation’s third largest city officially proclaim on our behalf, but it’s also sad that Chicago is the only city to do so. That is something we, as a community, should work on in the future.

The other aspect of Chicago’s Salute that was important was the degree of cooperation shown among most of the major GLBT activist groups advocating for repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. AVER, SLDN, and LCR were formal sponsors of the event, and HRC contributed veteran members of its current Legacy of Service Tour as speakers. As one who has a foot in all of these organizations (and others as well), I am personally gratified to see how successful such joint efforts can be.

Photo by  Kmetz: Ed Zasadil, WW II  Veteran, US Army Corps of Engineers. 

The event itself had performances from Chicago’s Gay Men’s Chorus, and the lesbian rock group Betty. In addition, there was a wreath laying ceremony performed by Air Force veteran Ed Wosylus accompanied by a moving performance of Echo Taps by Mellisa Terrell and Susan Jones of Chicago’s Lakeside Pride Freedom Band and a rendition of America the Beautiful by US Navy veteran and resident artist, “travis.”

U.S. Navy vet 'travis,' singing America The Beautiful; photo: Kmetz

A highlight for me was the attendance of five WWII veterans, one of whom, Ed Zasadil from the Army Corps of Engineers, served as the color guard for the posting of the colors.

Speakers at the event, in addition to myself, included Antonio Agnone, who was recently a 1st Lieutenant in the US Marine Corps, working as a combat engineer in Iraq, and who now works for the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, DC; former Public Affairs officer for the US Marine Corps Julianne Sohn, who served in Fallujah, Iraq and who now serves as a police officer in Los Angeles; Army veteran Alex Nicholson, who was discharged under DADT but who now speaks five languages, including Arabic and is prevented from serving because he is gay; Alex was the founder and former director of the highly successful Call to Duty Tour; and former Army specialist Jarrod Chlapowski, who is a Korean linguist and who served as an openly gay soldier during his entire enlistment; Jarrod served in Korea and worked as an interpreter and translator on more than 300 sensitive reconnaissance operation missions. These young veterans presented a highly moving and personal focus on the DADT issue, and their stories not only captivated the attention of the media and those in attendance, but more importantly, illustrate the immense loss of talent DADT imposes on our Armed Forces.

Eventually, and hopefully sooner rather than later, the DADT law will be repealed. And events like Chicago’s Salute to LGBT Veterans and the contributions of those mentioned above will have played a role in that victory.