(Editor’s note: Thomas enlisted in the Army National Guard at 17 in 1986; she was transferred to the U.S. Marine Corps in Camp Pendleton, California where she was outed as a lesbian; she was honorably discharged in 1991.)
I watched as the roach crawled down the jail cell wall near my head. I press my head down on the baloney sandwich I used as a pillow. The pressing thought on my mind that night was, “what will I tell my mother?” By this time, I honorably served in two branches of the military. I attended and graduated from college with a Master’s degree. I was a high school teacher. More importantly, I was the first in my family to become an elected official.
She was proud of me. My success in life demonstrated that all those hardships she endured rearing me in this crazy world was worth it. I thought, when my mother reads about this in the newspaper, I hope she will understand the reason I risked so much. One of her goals as a Black mother was to ensure I did not end up in jail. She did not want me to become a statistic. She wanted better for me.
As a single Black mother, she had the talk with me. She taught me at a young age, some people in this world will hate you because of the color of your skin. She talked with me about the Montgomery bus boycotts, Merger Evers, Rosa Parks, and Dr. King. She had the famous photo of the Woolworth Counter sit-in. She talked of the courage those Black men had to sit at the counter. She would go on to say, the photo does not tell the full story. She said, “In some cases White people would spit on them, throw food at them, scream vile and nasty words while standing inches from their face. They practiced non-violence. They risked being harmed so that one day, Black people would have justice and freedom in this country.”
My mother had this talk with me many times. This message kept playing over and over in my brain, when I was asked to participate in the direct action, nonviolent protest of The White House Six. I had to risk it all and muster the courage to represent the Women of Color of the LGBT community oppressed by this inhuman law of DADT.
Still to this day, I think it was one of President Obama’s greatest achievements. I had the opportunity to thank him the day he signed the bill to repeal DADT.
I gave him a Sanctuary Project Veterans wrist band. Then I asked him, “May I hug you on behalf of all the Women of Color impacted by DADT? He said, “Yes.” Then I wrapped arms around him and hugged President Barack Obama. I never thought it would happen in my lifetime. I had the opportunity to meet the first Black man America elected as our President. He was more than the leader of our government. He became a legacy to me when he repealed DADT.
It was not an easy decision for me to become a member of The White House Six. The moment I, as a Black Woman, handcuffed my wrist to the White House fence, I risked becoming an enemy to Black America. To some Black people it was a slap in the face to betray Our President in that manner.
It was more important for me to represent the Women of Color impacted by DADT. I had to represent the voiceless women that suffered in silence. In some cases, DADT was used as a tool to commit sexual coercion. Those women never had justice because those women could not report the crime. Lesbians were given a choice: let me rape you or lose your career. I compared it to plantation owners sneaking down to slave quarters at night to rape a female slave. Enlisting in the military was an escape from poverty. I had to take that risk.
Now we have Donald Trump. When he was elected someone snatched down the curtain to reveal the psyche of America, as it spiraled out of control. Our democratic process is in shambles. This president’s legacy is to persecute, destroy, and kill. He uses his power to spread hate. He made the decision to erase a population of people with a stroke of a pen, he demonstrated we do not matter to him. He declared war on my people.
I was in Washington D.C. on the day of Trump’s Inauguration. I never used my ticket provided by Congressman Darrell Issa. I did not attend the event. I kept the ticket. Instead, I attended the Washington D.C. Women’s March. I witnessed a shift in the cultural climate to something I do not recognize. I saw a sea of Pink Pussy hats down Independence Avenue. Women from around the nation gathered to protest Donald Trump, his anti-human rights administration. I met a 90-year old Black grandmother who came with her family. As she sat in her wheelchair, she said, “it was important for my daughter and grandchild to be apart of this movement. Women are doing it for themselves.” My thought was: I wish my mother was here with me to experience this and see the power of women.
I think it is time for women to take their rightful place. We must because Trump has declared war on us.