Friday, November 11, 2005

Saluting True Patriots

Today, for Veterans Day, I would like to salute the millions of lesbian and gay American veterans, and the 65,000 lesbians and gay men currently serving in our armed forces. These courageous men and women take the ultimate sacrifice a step further, not only putting their lives on the line for their country, but doing so under a special burden of injustice, fighting to defend rights that they themselves are denied. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has compiled the personal testimonies of many of these patriots. If you have a few moments, go and read some of their stories. Here are some highlights:
The Army is the best thing that ever happened to me. My career gave me an opportunity to make what I believe was a significant positive impact on the lives and careers of the numerous outstanding soldiers with whom I served. . . . I would have loved to remain in the Army and I probably would have continued to do well, however the Army's policy on gays in the military made that impossible. Two decades of always having to look over my shoulder were enough."

William Winniwisser, Lt. Colonel, US Army (1982-2002)

I did not accept my homosexuality until my last tour. Those years were difficult. I couldn't seek counseling because I had to use military medical facilities and didn't know who I could trust. Before I retired, my best friend — an army officer who was also struggling to accept his homosexuality — committed suicide. I had to cope with the pain alone, in silence, lest I risk being discovered myself. After all I had given to the Navy, living in fear of losing my career or my pension seemed like an unjust reward.

Nick Marulli, Petty Officer First Class, US Navy (Retired)

My bosses identified me as "the best staff officer in the battalion" and "best company commander in the brigade." More importantly, I earned the trust and respect of most the soldiers I led. As a matter of conscience, I resigned my commission because of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. . . . When I got out (literally and figuratively), I outed myself to as many people as I possibly could. About 80 percent of those I told said something like: "Yeah, we knew, we didn't care, we wish you had stayed." Another 15 percent expressed surprise, although I had never made any attempt to pass as heterosexual. This group was usually very supportive as well. Only about 5 percent decided that they couldn't be my friend if I was gay.

Rebecca Kanis, Captain, US Army (1991-2000)

At this early point in my career, a young Hispanic marine from another platoon "came out" as gay to a chaplain. I watched the chain of events that took place very carefully. It confirmed my views about Marine leadership. This young man was afraid that if his peers found out that he was gay they would beat him up — maybe even kill him. Nothing was further from the truth. The first sergeant took time to speak with the young man and find out what he was all about. His company mates looked out for him and took care of him until he was discharged. There was never any discussion about his shower or living arrangements. We Marines were all brothers and the first sergeant made sure everyone understood that. Leadership creates the mindset of an organization, and the leadership in my unit set the standard.

Phil Adams, Captain, US Marine Corps (1983-1992)

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