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Is Our Future in a Commission
for Rights of Military Service

by

Steve Loomis, LTC, U.S. Army (Retired)

29 October 2011
American Veterans for Equal Rights is moving into a future that cannot be stopped.  The work in our past is done, but our new work will not wait for the slow or unmotivated.  The day we long worked for came with the certification made by Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates to the President of the repeal the of Don't Ask, Don't Tell on 20th of September.  As we assembled in Albuquerque for our convention, it signified the end of one fight and the beginning of another. 

 It was a distinct privilege for our Bataan Chapter to host the 2011 American Veterans for Equal Rights National Convention in Albuquerque.  Wonderful opportunities to socialize with old friends and new from across the country as we visited "Old Town" Albuquerque and the always colorful and intriguing Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, the largest such gathering in the world.  Months of work prepared this convention to identify new missions and goals for AVER in keeping with the new realities following the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  LTC Vic Fehrenbach and MAJ Mike Almy were guest speakers and their cases helped provide light on where we are headed.  Important presentations were made by several chapters on areas of their success including; Ty Redhouse of Sacramento Valley Veterans on Organizing and Reorganizing a chapter, and Steve Loomis of Bataan Chapter (New Mexico) on an AVER Mission and goals critique, and the New Mexico ACLU on the DADT Separation Pay class action law suit.

 When Denny Meyer of AVERNY made a presentation on AVER Public Affairs to the convention from New York, it was the first time this was done by distance instruction via Skype connection.  Stephani Patten of Bataan Chapter coordinated to make this and digital presentations possible throughout the convention.  This also allowed Denny Meyer, who is multiply disabled, to participate in the full convention from New York and holds great promise for future conventions and meetings.

 The future of AVER is tied significantly to new membership and chapters to expand our services and reach.  Several visitors and members at large attended from Denver, Austin/San Antonio/Dallas and the San Francisco Bay area where new chapters can be started or restarted. 

 Congressman Martin Heinrich, D-NM, provided a welcome to New Mexico and recognized AVER's important efforts to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  Capping the convention, we swore in our new officers standing before proud WWII Navajo Code Talkers who held the AVER constitution on which our new officers took their oath of office.  At the end of our convention we remembered those AVER members who had passed since our last convention, each with a single bell and taps.

 

Many of us finally saw the completion of an eighteen year journey when we participated in the first Outserve Leadership Conference which AVER co-sponsored, by traveling to Las Vegas, Nevada the following weekend.  When I, like many other men and women, began to fight my discharge from the Army, few but those targeted for discharge under DADT dared speak publicly.  Bigotry against gays was the order of the day.  Young men and women were threatened and Barry Winchell, and Allen Schindler lost their lives because they were perceived to be gay.  Many careers were lost by highly professional soldiers, sailors, marines, coast guardsmen and airmen.  Slowly the climate changed as good soldiers and veterans began to speak out for the right of gays to serve openly.  That made all the difference as the public began to realize gays were among our best soldiers.  Key leadership both active and retired spoke of integrity and importance of gays serving openly.  Politicians could then make repeal a reality and did. 

At the final Outserve banquet, the room was full of young heroes on active duty and many of the mentors and mainstays of our fight to serve openly.  One of those mainstays recognized by Outserve for his service from the beginning was AVER's own James Darby of Chicago for his early work to organize and record the history of GLBT members of the military.  We can all take great pride in our efforts since before the beginning of DADT. 

I am relieved that this fight is behind us and that we can take a well deserved rest.  But, can we really rest now? 

It is essential we remember that "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance".  There are those who would "repeal" the repeal of DADT.  That is unlikely to happen, particularly if we man the political watch towers, but we must now work for the continued fair and complete implementation of the repeal.  The Defense of Marriage Act must be repealed before our service members have the more complete equality they deserve.  Even though we now serve openly alongside our straight comrades, DOMA prevents on post housing for our partners, medical benefits, death benefits, commissary and Exchange privileges just to name a few that our fellow soldiers have by virtue of being in straight marriages.  Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice must be amended to remove consensual heterosexual and homosexual sodomy from its prohibitions.  AVER has long publicly spoken for our brothers and sisters in uniform and visited countless members of Congress to petition our rights. We have worked for all veterans for access to Veterans Administration health and benefits programs.

Now, to achieve these additional goals and to protect the critical right to serve openly, we must work closely with all organizations who share our goals.  Surely we must, as in the American revolution, "stand together or hang separately".  AVER, Outserve, SLDN, the Palm Center and others all have the same goal of gays openly and equally serving our nation.  We have different organizational models of grass roots outreach to vets, grass roots outreach to active duty, political outreach and academic research which have all contributed mightily to our combined success.

 It is now essential we coordinate those goals, organizations and capabilities into a concentrated effort to achieve these objectives in an increasingly distracted and even unfriendly Congress.  With an umbrella organization or commission, each goal can be identified and approached with coordinated effort more likely to be successful.  For example, to repeal DOMA, our organizations from the successful fight to repeal DADT can work closely with Human Rights Campaign and Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and faith organizations among other groups to gain repeal.

 Such a "Commission for Rights of Military Service" would coordinate and bring to bear each DADT organization's considerable capabilities and outreach in a more effective far reaching manner for these new less familiar efforts.  Some of our new goals will be as difficult to achieve as the repeal of DADT was and need just as concerted an effort.  Even fund raising could be coordinated and extended beyond the often overlapping efforts we make now.  It is time to begin talking about this together, rather than separately.  A well organized "combined arms" action is more likely to succeed where single arms actions will fail. 

The AVER National Convention formally closed one door to a difficult past  and proudly opened another to our promising future.  Let's step through that door now!  We and our nation will all be better for it.

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Lieutenant Colonel Loomis is now retired in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is the President of the Bataan Chapter of American Veterans for Equal Rights and member of the National Board for AVER. He is a graduate of the University of New Mexico with a Bachelor’s in Journalism. During his military career he served in the Infantry and Engineer branches and was awarded:

Combat Infantry Badge
Bronze Star for Valor
Bronze Star for Service
Purple Heart
Meritorious Service Medal - 4th award
Air Medal
Army Commendation Medal – 2d award
Army Achievement Medal – 2d award
And other awards

LTC Loomis was the subject of an interview by Morley Safer on CBS 60 Minutes and has led efforts to reach out to numerous members of Congress on national GLBT issues, and funded his own successful GLBT rights effort in Federal Court.  He has organized and supported work within New Mexico for GLBT rights, working to improve coordination of  allied groups for marriage rights, hate crimes legislation and equal employment and housing rights.

  2011 Gay Military Signal