home about media center archive history links subscribe

We Must Speak for Those
who May Not Speak

by

Steve Loomis, LTC, EN, U.S. Army (Ret.)
President, Bataan Chapter - New Mexico,
American Veterans for Equal Rights

The high desert of New Mexico has seen the passage of tough dedicated soldiers across a difficult and demanding land many times.  Apaches, Spanish Conquistadores, Buffalo soldiers, atomic veterans and most recently Navajo Code Talkers and survivors of the Bataan Death March.  Each served in their sometimes brutal circumstances and many never returned home.  They took pride in their ability and service.  Now it is our turn!

As a mix of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and Two Spirit, we have served long, proudly and with the great distinction.  Still certain conservative forces seek to keep us down and degrade our lives and contributions, not because of what we are and how we have served, but because of who they think we are.  It hurts.  It hurts individual soldiers, it hurts families, it damages our military readiness and embarrasses our great country.

I know this from my own experiences and from the stories of my fellow service members, gay and straight.  We have served in silence for too long.  Now we must stand for our rights and dignity in the final moments of the fight for open service to our country.

It was again reinforced for me how important our rights are during Albuquerque's Pride Celebration this year.  Pride was nearing the end of a long beautiful day and we had spoken to hundreds of vets and supporters.  As we spoke to vets, active duty and supporters of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, I noticed a young Native American standing with several friends a few feet away.  A handsome young man, he respectfully waited for me to finish.  I thanked the supporter and turned to the young man and asked, "Will you sign our petition to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and explained it was going to our congressional delegation.  As he added his signature to the petition, he said, "I didn't know there was a group like this."  "Are you a veteran,"  I asked.  "Yes, sir.  U.S. Navy," he answered.  "But it was tough."  I could tell he wanted to talk.  I asked, "What tribe are you?"  then listened.

"I'm Navajo.  I just didn't have many friends in the Navy.  I felt isolated, like I couldn't talk to anyone else.  I didn't really want to join because I am gay, but my family wanted me to join and I couldn't tell them why.  But, the tradition is strong among Navajos, so I joined." 

"We're going to beat Don't Ask, Don't Tell," I told him.  I began to introduce him to some of our Vietnam and Cold War Navy vets.  You should visit our meetings.  We've got a lot going on and yes, we have veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan to the Korean War."

As he took some of our literature, he answered, " I'd like to."  Then, grabbing my hand  for a handshake, he said, "Thank you."  He reached and gave me a huge long bear hug.  "Thank you for being here."  I can't say that I saw tears in his eyes, but he probably saw some in mine.

This is why I am committed to the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; so I can stand up for those on active duty who can't speak for themselves.   This is why it so important for all of us to continue the good fight.  This is why we must win this fight.  This is why we will win this fight.

2010 Gay Military Signal