We Have Gay and Lesbian Veterans, Too

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Tomorrow is Veterans Day.

During the past few days I have been writing about the sacrifices made by and heroism exhibited by our veterans—both living and departed.

We often forget, however, that many of the sacrifices made, heroism and patriotism displayed and just plain honorable service to our country is by men and women who at one time were not even permitted to legally serve, and who today can serve their country as long as they “don’t tell.”

I am talking about the more than 12,000 veterans who have been discharged since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was implemented, because they are gay or lesbian.

I am talking about the close to 125,000 veterans who have been discharged since World War II, simply because they are gay or lesbian.

I am talking about the estimated one million veterans in the United States who are gay or lesbian.

I am talking about men and women who have received every military award and decoration from the Purple Heart to the Air Medal for Heroism.

I am talking about Marine Sgt. Eric Alva, who stepped on a landmine the first day of Operation Iraqi Freedom and lost his right leg, broke his left leg and permanently damaged his right arm.

As the Iraq war’s first casualty, he received the Purple Heart along with personal visits from President and Mrs. Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld. Alva happens to be gay.

I am talking about Purple Heart recipient John McNeill, a World War II veteran who served in combat in the Third Army under General Patton, was captured during the Battle of the Bulge and spent six months as a Prisoner of War. McNeill happens to be gay.

I am talking about Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, an 18-year Air Force veteran who flew a total of 88 combat missions over Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq as an F-15 fighter pilot and who received eight Air Medals, one for heroism. Fehrenbach happens to be gay.

I am talking about our Veteran Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen who happen to be gay.

The following is for them on this Veterans Day:

The men and women in our armed forces unselfishly sacrifice for our freedom, our rights and our way of life.

It is thus ironic and disgraceful that too many of these very same men and women are denied some of the rights enjoyed by the society they protect.

Fortunately, many “traditions” and prejudices that have contributed to barring our military from serving to their full potential—even from serving—because of race, gender, or sexual orientation have been falling, albeit too slowly.

Gone are the ugly days when black Americans were barred from serving alongside their white brethren in the military. Of course, President Truman’s 1948 executive order to racially integrate the U.S. military did not contain language allowing blacks to serve as long as they kept their race secret. Ridiculous, you say.

Gone are most of the barriers that have prevented women from serving equally alongside their male military counterparts. Again, the policies removing such barriers did not contain language allowing women to perform the new duties as long as they kept their gender secret. Again, how ridiculous…

Ludicrous as the above may seem, that is exactly what “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation requires of certain Americans who want to serve their country. The 1993 legislation allows homosexuals to serve as long as they keep their sexual orientation secret. In other words, as long as they deny and betray their dignity— their own being.

The same tired, repudiated canards that have been used to legitimize every other discriminatory policy in the military—negative impact on combat effectiveness, unit cohesion, morale and discipline—are still being used to justify this remaining vestige of discrimination against gay and lesbian members of the military.

Never mind that no scientific studies or objective logic support such premises.

Never mind that an estimated 65,000 homosexuals are serving honorably—often heroically—in our military.

Never mind that societal views and mores have evolved considerably since 1993.

Never mind that seasoned, fair-minded active duty and retired generals and sergeants strongly dispute such rationalizations, including this retired military officer, father of a wonderful son who happens to be gay.

President Clinton promised during his 1992 campaign to lift the ban on homosexuals serving in the military. Because of political realities, he compromised.

President Obama made a similar campaign promise. At a recent human rights event, he renewed his pledge. It is now time, because of American realities, to “uncompromise.”

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist