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First woman to lead a branch of the military confirmed by Senate

While women have served as service branch secretaries- Fagan would be the first servicewoman to serve as the leader of a military branch

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Vice Adm. Linda L. Fagan is promoted to the rank of admiral during a ceremony at Coast Guard Headquarters, June 18, 2021. Fagan is the Coast Guard’s first woman to serve as a four-star admiral. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ltjg. Pamela Manns).

WASHINGTON – The Senate has confirmed Admiral Linda L. Fagan as the 27th Commandant of the United States Coast Guard. The current Commandant Admiral Karl L. Schultz is set to retire at the end of this month. President Joe Biden nominated Fagan to lead the service, a military branch that operates within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in peacetime this past month.

Fagan, promoted to the rank of four-star Admiral in June of 2021, is the Coast Guard’s first woman to serve as a four-star flag officer and currently serves as the service’s Vice-Commandant.

Task & Purpose magazine noted that while women have served as service branch secretaries — Christine Wormuth is the current Secretary of the Army — Fagan would be the first servicewoman to serve as the leader of a military branch. 

In a statement issued Thursday,  President Biden congratulated her.

“It is with deep pride that I congratulate Admiral Linda L. Fagan on her confirmation by the Senate as Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. Admiral Fagan is the Coast Guard’s first woman to hold the rank of four-star admiral. Today, she again makes history not only as the first woman to lead the Coast Guard—but also as the first woman Service Chief of any U.S. military service. Admiral Fagan’s leadership, experience, and integrity are second to none, and I know she will advance the Coast Guard’s mission to ensure our nation’s maritime safety and security. 

My administration is committed to seeing more qualified women in senior leadership and command roles; making sure women can succeed and thrive throughout their military careers. Today, Admiral Fagan’s confirmation as Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard signals to women and girls across our nation they have a place in protecting their country at the highest level.”

The admiral is a1985 graduate of the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut and over the course of career spanning 36 years she has served on seven continents, the Coast Guard’s New York Sector, Commander First Coast Guard District in Boston, Coast Guard Defense Force West, Coast Guard Pacific Area, as well as stints as the service’s headquarters in Washington D.C. apart from her post as Vice-Commandant and duty at sea aboard the only heavy icebreaker in the Coast Guard’s inventory, the USCG Cutter Polar Star.

Task & Purpose also reported;

It wouldn’t be the first milestone for Fagan to achieve in the Coast Guard. When she was promoted to vice commandant in 2021, she became the first-ever four-star admiral in the branch. In an interview with “CBS This Morning” that year, she described nearly being pulled from her first sea deployment, as the ship’s executive officer was hesitant to have her aboard as the only woman in the crew. 

She also noted her commitment to helping the Coast Guard continue to recruit and retain women, including her own daughter, in its ranks. “We’ve made a lot of progress in the junior ranks, we need to keep making progress,” she said.

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Pentagon to restore honor to vets kicked out over sexual orientation

This follows a lawsuit filed last month by LGBTQ veterans against the Pentagon for allegedly failing to remedy “ongoing discrimination”

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U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (Screen capture/YouTube/CNN)

ARLINGTON, Va. – The U.S. Department of Defense announced plans to restore honor to service members who were kicked out of the military over their sexual orientation, the agency announced on Wednesday, the 12th anniversary of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Over the past decade, we’ve tried to make it easier for service members discharged based on their sexual orientation to obtain corrective relief,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement.

“While this process can be difficult to navigate, we are working to make it more accessible and efficient,” he said, adding, “in the coming weeks, we will be initiating new outreach campaigns to encourage all service members and veterans who believe they have suffered an error or injustice to seek correction to their military records.”

The move follows a class action lawsuit filed last month by LGBTQ veterans against the Pentagon for allegedly failing to remedy “ongoing discrimination,” including biased language in the discharge papers of LGBTQ veterans.

CBS News has investigated the Pentagon’s handling of service records of veterans who were kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation, revealing the broad scope of discrimination experienced by these LGBTQ veterans — finding, for instance, that more than 29,000 were denied honorable discharges.

Also on Wednesday, U.S. Reps. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), along with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) re-introduced a bill that would establish “a commission to investigate the historic and ongoing impacts of discriminatory military policies on LGBTQ service members and veterans.”

“This commission would study the impact of these bigoted rules” barring LGBTQ troops from serving “and forge a more welcoming future in the military and at the VA,” said Takano, who serves as ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus.

“Our country has never made amends for official discriminatory policies like ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and the transgender military ban – and that failure still haunts today’s service members and veterans,” said Jacobs.

“That’s why I’m so proud to co-lead this bicameral legislation that will right these historic wrongs, investigate the past and present impact of anti-LGBTQ+ policies, and help us move forward to build and sustain a diverse, inclusive, strong, and welcoming military.”  

“This commission would be an important step to understand the full scope of the harms caused by policies like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and to ensure a more equitable future for all who serve our country in uniform,” Blumenthal said.

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HIV-positive soldier commissioned with U.S. Army National Guard

More than 50 people who attended were family members, friends, LGBTQ rights advocates, and fellow service members

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Kevin Jennings, CEO of Lambda Legal, (left) & Baraq Stein, Harrison’s partner, performed the ceremonial “Pinning of Rank” on the newly commissioned First Lieutenant Nicholas Harrison. (Photo Credit: John Jack Photography- Harrison/Facebook)

WASHINGTON – Gay D.C. attorney Nicholas Harrison, a longtime member of the U.S. Army National Guard, was officially commissioned as a First Lieutenant in the D.C. Army National Guard at an Aug. 5 ceremony.

The ceremony at the D.C. National Guard Armory located next to RFK Stadium took place a little over a year after Harrison, who was diagnosed with HIV in 2012, successfully challenged the military’s longstanding policy of banning soldiers with HIV from becoming commissioned officers in a lawsuit initially filed in 2018.

In what LGBTQ and AIDS activists consider a landmark ruling, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia handed down a decision in April 2022 declaring the military’s HIV restrictions unconstitutional. The decision ordered the U.S. Department of Defense to discontinue its policy of refusing to deploy and commission as officers members of the military with HIV if they are asymptomatic and otherwise physically capable of serving.

Two months after that ruling, the Biden administration announced it would not contest the court ruling in an appeal, and a short time later U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a memorandum announcing changes in the military policy that would allow members of the military with HIV to be deployed and become officers in accordance with the court ruling.

The memorandum states that individuals “who have been identified as HIV positive, are asymptomatic, and who have clinically confirmed undetectable viral load will have no restrictions applied to their deployability or to their ability to commission while a service member solely on the basis of their HIV-positive status.”

Kevin Jennings, CEO of Lambda Legal, the LGBTQ litigation organization that represented Harrison in his lawsuit and who attended Harrison’s commissioning ceremony, called the court ruling and the Biden administration’s decision not to appeal the ruling an important advancement in efforts to remove barriers to people with HIV who wish to serve in the military.

“Today is a historic day in Washington, D.C., as we witness the commissioning of Nick Harrison,” Jennings and Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Kara Ingelhart said in a statement. “Although the journey to wearing his officer’s bars took several years, Nick’s perseverance, along with his legal team and other involved service members, helped to realize his dream of becoming an officer in the District of Columbia Army National Guard,” Jennings and Ingelhart said.

Among the more than 50 people who attended Harrison’s commissioning ceremony were family members, friends, LGBTQ rights advocates, and fellow service members.

Serving as master of ceremonies at the event was Dr. Joshua Fontanez, chair of the board for the Modern Military Association of America, the nation’s largest organization representing LGBTQ military service members, their spouses, family members, and veterans. The association joined Lambda Legal in supporting Harrison’s lawsuit to overturn the military’s HIV policy.

Donald Cravins Jr., the U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for Minority Business Development, administered the oath of office commissioning Harrison to the rank of First Lieutenant.

And Jennings of Lambda Legal and Baraq Stein, Harrison’s partner, performed the ceremonial “Pinning of Rank” by attaching the lieutenant’s rank insignia on each side of the shoulder of the Army uniform that Harrison was wearing at the ceremony.

“This commissioning ceremony, steeped in long-standing military tradition, is intentionally focused on honoring the network of support and inspiration that brought me to this juncture,” Harrison said in remarks following his official commissioning.

“My own path has been far from conventional, leading me into the heart of a storm that allowed me to become part of a larger narrative – challenging the military’s discriminatory HIV policies through a landmark court case brought by Lambda Legal and the Modern Military Association of America,” he said.

A native of Oklahoma, Harrison joined the U.S. Army in September 2000 at the age of 23, at the time he was about to enter his third year as a student at the University of Central Oklahoma. He said he served for three years as an airborne paratrooper with a Parachute Infantry Regiment in Anchorage, Alaska.

After completing his initial enlistment in the Army, he resumed his university studies while joining the Oklahoma National Guard. He graduated in May 2005 with a bachelor’s degree and “proceeded to Oklahoma City University’s law school,” he told the Blade in a statement.

In March 2006, while enrolled in law school, he was deployed to Afghanistan with the Oklahoma National Guard’s 45th Infantry Division, he recounted in his statement. Upon his return, he said he had to restart his law school studies at the University of Oklahoma in August 2007.

After receiving a law degree and Master of Business Administration degree he was deployed once again, this time to Kuwait and Iraq. “On my return, I passed the bar and began job hunting, which led me to Washington, D.C. in July 2013,” he says in his statement.

In October of 2013, he transferred his National Guard membership from Oklahoma to D.C. by joining the D.C. National Guard, where he was assigned to a military police company with the rank of sergeant, he said. During that same year, he was selected for a Judge Advocate General position, which involves duties similar to a civilian judge.

Having been diagnosed with HIV the previous year, he requested a waiver from the military’s HIV policy that would have allowed him to take on his new JAG position. But his request was turned down, prompting him to initiate a campaign to challenge what he and many others believed to be an outdated policy denying fully capable people with HIV from serving in positions as military officers.

A short time later, through support from Lambda Legal and an organization that later became the Modern Military Association of America, he filed his lawsuit challenging the military’s HIV policy that has led to what his supporters are calling the landmark event on Aug. 5 during which he became a commissioned officer.

Harrison, however, said the Army has interpreted the changed HIV rules in a way that has forced him to take his case once again to court to challenge a decision by Army officials to have him reapply to join the National Guard under the new policy rather than commission him as an officer retroactively based on his 23 years of military service.

Having to reapply, Harrison told the Washington Blade, would require him to serve in the National Guard for another eight years, even though he became eligible to retire in 2020. He has contested the decision to require him to reapply before the same court that overturned the military’s discriminatory HIV policy and before the Army Board for the Correction of Military Records, which he says has the authority to “rectify” the Army’s position on reenlistment.

Jennings of Lambda Legal said at Harrison’s commissioning ceremony that Harrison’s ongoing dispute with military officials indicates that some details related to Harrison’s case must still be worked out.

“But today we really should just celebrate Nick’s perseverance,” Jennings told the Blade. “His determination, and the fact that he has made history has paved the way for thousands of people.”

In his remarks following his commissioning, Harrison said among the lessons he has learned in his many years in the military is the need to be respectful of the military as an institution and to engage in “respectful disagreement” when at odds with others.

“When I chose to don the uniform, to become part of an institution that has had its share of failures, it was not a decision made lightly,” he said. “I embarked on this journey because I believe in the potential for change from within, in the power of standing up from within a marginalized community to serve, protect, and defend a nation that doesn’t always reciprocate in kind,” he told the gathering.

Harrison currently serves as managing partner for the downtown D.C. law firm Harrison-Stein.

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Senior General speaking at DoD Pride slams anti-LGBTQ laws

State legislatures across the nation have this year introduced nearly 525 bills attacking the LGBTQ+ community

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Lt. Gen. DeAnna Burt, Deputy Chief of Space Operations for the U.S. Space Force speaking at the Department of Defense 2023 Pride Event. (Screenshot/YouTube DoD)

ARLINGTON, VA – During her speech at the 12th Annual Department of Defense LGBTQ+ Pride Event held at the Pentagon earlier this month, Lt. Gen. DeAnna Burt, Deputy Chief of Space Operations for the U.S. Space Force, leveled criticism at state-level legislation the general feels will negatively impact LGBTQ+ military personnel and their dependents.

“Since January of this year, more than 400 anti-LGBTQ+ laws have been introduced at the state level,’ said Burt. ‘That number is rising and demonstrates a trend that could be dangerous for service members, their families, and the readiness of the force as a whole,’ she added. 

Without specifically calling individual states, Burt took the lawmakers to task for leaving her with options in personnel choices that because of the hostile environments targeting the LGBTQ+ community translated to her having to settle on filling jobs with less qualified persons so as to avoid a potential harmful environment for LGBTQ servicemembers or their families.

“When I look at potential candidates, say, for squadron command, I strive to match the right person to the right job. I consider their job performance and relevant experience first. However, I also look at their personal circumstances, and their family is also an important factor,” the general said.

“If a good match for a job does not feel safe being themselves and performing at their highest potential at a given location, or if their family could be denied critical health care due to the laws in that state, I am compelled to consider a different candidate, and, perhaps less qualified. Those barriers are a threat to our readiness, and they have a direct correlation to the resiliency and wellbeing of our most important operational advantage: our people.” Burt stressed.

State legislatures across the nation have this year introduced nearly 525 bills attacking the LGBTQ+ community. A Defense Department spokesperson while declining to comment directly on General Burt’s comments, said:

“We have the top talent in the Nation, and we must enable them to perform their missions by ensuring they are not worried about the health and safety of their families. The Department recognizes that various laws and legislation are being proposed and passed in states across America that may affect LGBTQ Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, Guardians, and/or their LGBTQ dependents in different ways.”

“Efforts are made by leadership on a continuing basis to identify and remove any barriers that impacts force readiness and moral,” the official added.

During a Pride Event at the White House, President Joe Biden called the new state measures ‘terrifying’ attacks on LGBTQ rights.

“When families across the country face excruciating decisions to relocate to a different state to protect their child from dangerous ant-LGTBQ laws, we have to act,” the president said.

‘We need to push back against the hundreds of callous and cynical bills introduced in states targeting transgender children, terrifying families and criminalizing doctors and nurses,’ Biden said adding, “These bills and laws attack the most basic values and freedoms we have as Americans.”

Watch:

2023 DoD Pride Event (The General’s remarks start at 38:33):

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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs defends cancellation of drag show

Milley pushed back on accusations that the military had “gone woke” during the interview, marking the 79th anniversary of the D-Day invasion

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U.S. Army General Mark Milley, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Defense)

NORMANDY, France – U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN’s Oren Liebermann during an interview Monday that last week’s cancellation of a drag show at Nellis Air Force base in Nevada was “the absolute right thing to do.”

The top U.S. military officer said the decision came from U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, but added that he agreed with the move.

A Pentagon source familiar with the matter told the Washington Blade on Thursday that Milley informed Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. that it is not Pentagon policy to fund drag shows on bases and the show needed to be canceled or moved off base. 

He echoed those comments during Monday’s interview, asserting that the performances “were never part of [Department of Defense] policy to begin with, and they’re certainly not funded by federal funds.”

“DoD resources should be used for mission-essential operations, not diverted toward initiatives that create cultural fissures within our service ranks,” anti-LGBTQ U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said in a May 23 letter to Milley and Austin.

“I find it completely unacceptable that DoD is using taxpayer dollars to fund DEI programs that are divisive in nature,” said Gaetz, referring to diversity, equity, and inclusion – programs typically administered by corporations that have increasingly become targets of conservative outrage.

Milley pushed back on accusations that the military had “gone woke” during the interview, which took place in Normandy, France, marking the 79th anniversary of the D-Day invasion into Nazi-occupied Europe on June 6 1944.

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Defense Secretary orders drag show at USAF base cancelled

A Pentagon official said that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was visibly angry about the decision to host the event on base

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Main Gate, Nellis AFB, Nevada (Photo Credit: United States Air Force Public Affairs)

NELLIS AFB, NV – A previously scheduled drag show to kick off Pride Month on this sprawling base, an advanced combat aviation training facility for the U.S. Air Force northeast of Las Vegas, was cancelled Wednesday according to a Pentagon official, after U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley stepped in.

A Pentagon source familiar with the matter told the Blade that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs informed the Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. that it is not Pentagon policy to fund drag shows on bases and the show needed to be canceled or moved off base. 

The issue over drag performances was a focus at a House Armed Services Committee hearing earlier this year on March 29, when anti-LGBTQ+ Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz demanded in an angry tone that the Defense Secretary and the JCS Chairman explain why drag queen story hours were being hosted on U.S. military installations. The Florida Republican mentioned bases in  Montana, Nevada, Virginia and Germany.

In a highly publicized incident in May 2022, Stars and Stripes reported that the Commanding General of the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein AFB in Germany had a Drag Queen Storytime, that was to be held in honor of Pride Month cancelled.

According to Stars & Stripes, the 86th Air Wing’s public affairs sent a statement to a radical-right anti-LGBTQ+ news outlet in Canada, The Post Millennial, which had requested comment to its article about the event and also accused the Air Force of pushing a more “woke” agenda among servicemen. 

In a press release, Florida Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio took partial credit for the cancellation.

Rubio sent a letter to U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall regarding the Air Force Library at Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany hosting a “Drag Queen Story Time” event for young children of servicemembers.

Rubio urged him to cancel the event, discipline the staff involved in planning and hosting the event, and respond to questions on whether other installations both at home and around the world have done similar events. Following receipt of Rubio’s letter, the Air Force canceled the event. 

“The last thing parents serving their nation overseas should be worried about, particularly in a theater with heightened geopolitical tensions, is whether their children are being exposed to sexually charged content simply because they visited their local library,” Rubio wrote.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Mark Milley meet with U.S. Army Gen. Scott Miller at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland on July 14, 2021.
(Photo by Carlos M. Vazquez, DOD)

A Pentagon official referring to the drag show at Nellis said that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was visibly angry about the decision to host the event on base after being informed about it earlier this week.

The drag show was scheduled for Thursday June 1, but Maj. Gen. Case A. Cunningham, the Commander of the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center, Nellis was informed in the past few days that it must either be canceled or moved off base. 

On May 23, Congressman Gaetz sent a letter to Secretary Austin and Chairman Milley, alleging that the “pervasive and persistent use of taxpayer dollars for drag events,” had a June 1, 2023 Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada event scheduled.

Gaetz went on to write that “Nellis Air Force Base has announced a so-called “family-friendly” drag organized by the Nellis LGBTQ+ Pride Council for June 1, 2023. In this latest outright attack on children, this event is being advertised as having no minimum age requirement.” 

In his letter Gaetz also demanded to know:

  • Does the DoD feel it’s appropriate for children to attend a sexualized drag performance?
  • Why are base commanders defying your intent and direction by facilitating drag events?
  • If this event goes forward, whether on June 1st or a later scheduled date, please provide an explanation regarding your justification for why you allowed the event to take place.

According to a spokesperson for the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center, Nellis, in June 2021 the base had hosted a Pride Month drag show titled “Drag-u-Nellis.” The spokesperson noted the 2021 show was intended to promote inclusivity and diversity. 

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The Navy’s top admiral defends non-binary officer over viral video

“Sir, we ask people from all over the country, from all walks of life, from all different backgrounds to join us”

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Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday (Official U.S. Navy photo)

WASHINGTON – During the course of his testimony before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on April 18, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Mike Gilday found himself being questioned by Alabama Republican U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville about an Instagram video that had gone viral regarding a nonbinary commissioned officer.

Senator Tuberville has a record of anti-LGBTQ animus including federal legislation, co-sponsoring a bill in June 2022 that was originally sponsored by another anti-LGBTQ Republican, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, that would have banned transgender youth nationwide from taking part in school sporting events consistent with their gender identities. 

During the hearing, Tuberville told the CNO, “I have a lot of problems with this video.” He then misgendered the nonbinary officer and after asking the Admiral if he had seen the video which Gilday answered in the affirmative, Tuberville told him “I hope we train our officers to prioritize their sailors, not themselves.”

The video regarding poetry that had been read by LTJG Audrey Knutson, to their fellow officers and the crew of the U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) aircraft carrier regarding the ship’s recent deployment, which had been posted to the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps’ (JAG), Instagram account:

Lieutenant Knutson explained that they were honored to follow in their grandfather’s footstep, who had served as a closeted gay sailor aboard the U.S.S. Hornet (CV-8) during World War Two. The reading of the poem occurred during an LGBTQ+ spoken word night, which they said was one of the best moments of their first ever deployment at sea aboard the Ford.

Days prior to the hearing, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) had criticized the video on Twitter:

Tuberville then asked the CNO:

“Did it surprise you that a junior officer said the highlight of her deployment – her first, and the ship’s first – was about herself and her own achievement?”

Admiral Gilday, the U.S. Navy’s highest ranking officer, in a measured response to the Senator, told the committee:

“I’ll tell you why I’m particularly proud of this sailor,” he responded. “Her grandfather served during World War II, and he was gay, and he was ostracized in the very institution that she not only joined and is proud to be a part of, but she volunteered to deploy on Ford. And she’ll likely deploy again next month when Ford goes back to sea.”

“Sir, we ask people from all over the country, from all walks of life, from all different backgrounds to join us, and then it’s the job of a commanding officer to build a cohesive warfighting team,” he continued. “That little trust that a commanding officer develops across that unit has to be grounded on dignity and respect.”

On Twitter after that exchange, journalist Ed Krassenstein noted:

“This is incredible! Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday just destroyed Republican talking points that attacked a non-binary Navy Officer who was proud that they had the chance to read a poem to their crew mates on an LGBTQ spoken-word night.

Gilday responded to Senator Tommy Tuberville saying, “I’ll tell you why I’m particularly proud of this sailor. Her grandfather served during World War II, and he was gay, and he was ostracized in the very institution that she not only joined and is proud to be a part of, but she volunteered to deploy on Ford. And she’ll likely deploy again next month when Ford goes back to sea.”

Thank you to this incredible sailor and to Adm. Gilday for standing up for our Navy heroes!”

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday testifying before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, April 18, 2023.
(Official U.S. Navy photo & graphic)
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Celebrating, honoring, & remembering America’s LGBTQ veterans

“On the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, we will remember them,” General of the Armies of the U.S. John “Black Jack,” Pershing

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Lt. Pete Buttigieg, USNR with his parents Joseph A. Buttigieg and Anne Montgomery returning from deployment to Afghanistan in 2014. (Photo Courtesy of U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg)

LOS ANGELES – November 11 is Veteran’s Day in the United States. For much of the rest of the world and especially in Europe, it is Armistice Day, the day that marks the end of World War I, which was also referred to as ‘the Great War.’ On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 when the armistice was signed, over 20 million people had lost their lives.

On the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, we will remember them,General of the Armies of the United States John Joseph “Black Jack,” Pershing. (September 13, 1860 – July 15, 1948)

There are an estimated 1 million currently living lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer veterans in the United States. They have served in the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and now the U.S. Space Force.

They served their country in conflicts spanning from the Second World War up through ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ as well as in peacetime. But for many who served until the end of Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell on September 20, 2011 and later President Joe Biden’s order ending the ban on Trans service in 2021, they served in silence risking discharge and societal ostracization if their sexual orientation or gender identity was revealed.

Formerly San Francisco-based LGBTQ activist Michael Bedwell tells the story of Sarah Davis who served during World War 2 in the U.S. Navy as a member of the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). Davis, whose nickname was “Sammi,” was from a small town in Iowa in the heartland of America.

Sarah “Sammi” Davis

Davis later she said that she joined in 1943 for “the adventure, the excitement. I was going to save the world for democracy. I liked the military life. I liked the discipline. I liked the order. I liked the marching, and the tunes.” Though WAVES could not serve aboard combat ships or aircraft, they supported them; Davis was an Aviation Machinist Mate First Class at the Naval Air Station in Vero Beach, Florida, and wrote news stories for the Naval Flight Exhibition Team in Jacksonville, Florida.

Before volunteering, she remembered she hadn’t heard “anything about being queer. Didn’t even know that word existed when I went into the Navy. We used to go to the bars open to lesbians, and hug and kiss and so on, but we had to keep things under control. And we definitely couldn’t acknowledge commanding officers who might be lesbian, because you could get into big trouble. You had to form relationships very discreetly and privately.”

After the war, she was interrogated during a witch hunt, a part of the about-face the military did after mostly “looking the other way” during the War once they no longer needed so many troops, and began lecturing new women recruits about the horrors of aggressive lesbians. Davis survived by breaking up with her lover, and denying she knew other gay women, and was ultimately given an honorable discharge. But she told documentary filmmaker Arthur Dong that, “[I]t made me very, very guarded for years and years. It took away what power that I thought I had. It broke my spirit, really, a lot. And that’s been hard to recover, very hard.”

It took many years, but one of the ways she found healing, and came out publicly, was winning seven gold medals in the seniors category at 1990’s Gay Games. In the interim, she attended Stanford University and USC, and was graduated in 1952 in Occupational Therapy and certified in Physical Therapy in 1956. In 1963, she received a Master of Arts Degree in Photography from San Francisco State College. She also served in the Peace Corps in 1971, serving in Swaziland, worked for San Francisco’s Visiting Nurses Association, and became a deacon in San Francisco’s All Saints’ Episcopal Church. For years she lived with her dog, Rambo, in an 1896 three-story Victorian on Clayton Street in the Haight that she bought in 1960, and ran as a boardinghouse worthy of one of Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City” characters.

A 2008 “New York Times” article about it being remodeled by its new owners upon the move by Davis, then 81, to an assisted living facility noted that, “The mural of a naked goddess that once dominated the entrance parlor is gone, [and] the communal shower with its swinging saloon doors. But a few remnants survive, including a wrought-iron peace sign on the back porch and, in a bathroom, a stained-glass portrait of St. Peter that had been salvaged in the 1960s from a demolished church. Tenants and guests [had] painted walls and ceilings with mandalas, Rastafarian basketball players, and a tree root that morphed into a rabbit, horse, and wolf.”

Upon her death the next year back in Iowa, Davis left a trust from her sale of her colorful house benefiting various groups including Marin County’s Canal Alliance that serves low-income immigrant populations with “crisis counseling, a food pantry, classes in English, computers, and citizenship, and affordable legal help to keep families together.” A niece wrote: “Aunt Sarah was a positive influence in my live. She always encouraged me to reach for the stars. She lived her life to the fullest, and had many exciting experiences. She followed her mother’s example and continued fighting for women’s rights. She will be missed.”

Gay and Lesbian soldiers faced extraordinary discrimination during World War II. Most found new communities of people and thrived despite the oppression. Discover the film Coming Out Under Fire that shares their story.~ The National World War II Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana.

One of the most significant figures in the American LGBTQ+ rights movement was himself also a veteran. Franklin Edward Kameny had been drafted and served in the Army during World War II and later upon discharge he matriculated first at Queens College, City University of New York then attending graduate school at Harvard University earned a doctorate in astronomy.

While working as astronomer in the U.S. Army’s Army Map Service in Washington D.C. Kameny was outed and fired from his position in 1957 leading to his fifty-four years long career as a LGBTQ+ activist and spokesperson for equality, which only ended when Kameny died on National Coming Out Day on October 11, 2011. 

Kameny had a lengthy list of accomplishments during his career as an activist including his being a co-founder of the Washington, D.C. Mattachine Society, and along side the Mattachine membership launched some of the earliest public protests by gays and lesbians with a picket line at the White House on April 17, 1965.

He also worked to remove the classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Frank Kamney in 2009 with the protest signs from the 1960’s Mattachine LGBTQ+ protests.
(Photo by DC Virago)

In the early 1970’s Kamney became friends and worked with an Air Force Vietnam veteran who soon became the public face of gays in the military.

“When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.” ~ From the headstone on the grave of Technical Sergeant (TSgt) Leonard Matlovich, United States Air Force

Technical Sergeant (TSgt) Leonard Matlovich, U.S. Air Force had served three tours of duty, earning the Bronze Star for bravery, the Purple Heart, and an Air Force commendation during his time in Vietnam.

In March of 1975 Matlovich became the first uniformed member of the armed forces on active duty to challenge and fight discrimination against gays and lesbians and he became the first openly gay person to be on the cover of Time Magazine.

Although he was ultimately discharged in 1980 a federal judge ordered the Air Force to reinstate him with back pay. The Air Force negotiated a settlement with Matlovich and the federal court’s ruling was vacated when he agreed to drop the case in exchange for a tax-free payment of $160,000.

Matlovich, like Frank Kamney became active in gay rights and AIDS organizations.

In 1986, he was diagnosed with AIDS and when he succumbed to the disease and died in West Hollywood, California in June 1988, his body was returned Washington D.C. and buried at the Congressional Cemetery in Southeast D.C. with full military honors.

The stories of LGBTQ+ veterans span beyond activism. In August of 2021 during the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan, a transgender government contractor for the U.S. State Department and former U.S. Air Force Sergeant Josie Thomas found herself trapped along with her colleagues at the diplomatic support facility known as Camp Alvarado located on the outskirts of Afghan capital city’s airport.

Josie Thomas (Photo Credit: Thomas’ Facebook page)

Thomas, in a series of text messages provided to the Blade on background by a colleague of hers, relayed that she and others were aware of the immediate presence of the Taliban insurgents, which was communicated at the time Afghan security forces had abandoned their posts.

One of her colleagues communicating with Thomas received a text from her stating that elements of the United States Army’s 82nd Airborne Division had arrived at the Camp Alvarado diplomatic support facility;

“Just talked to her again for several minutes. The 82nd has taken control of her compound and there’s a clear route from there to the flight line now. That the place is looking like a refugee camp with the amount of displaced coalition personnel and there’s no aircraft coming in to evacuate people yet.” On August 17, she was evacuated and flown home.

Likely one of the most high profile contemporary LGBTQ+ military veterans is the current U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, shown in the featured photograph with his parents. Buttigieg, a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Oxford, served in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 2009 to 2017 and left with the rank of Lieutenant (O-3).

Buttigieg, the first openly gay man to be confirmed by the U. S. Senate to a presidential cabinet post had previously been elected and served as the 32nd Mayor of his hometown of South Bend, Indiana.

These are but a very select few stories of the tens of thousands of LGBTQ+ Americans who have proudly worn the uniform of their country.

President Barack Obama lays a wreath in observance of Veterans Day at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, November 11, 2016.
(Photo credit: U.S. Army Photography Unit, the Pentagon, Military District of Washington)

On Memorial Day 2013, this reporter, while working as the Washington Bureau Chief for another LGBTQ publication encountered the story of one of those veterans:

ARLINGTON, Va. — Every year that I have lived and worked in this city [Washington D.C.] I have always gone to Arlington National Cemetery to observe the Memorial Day ceremonies.

Afterward, I wander through the grounds, just to watch, maybe to listen, but mostly to contemplate on the sacrifices made by those brave souls whose final resting place has become hallowed ground — a literal garden of stones.

Arlington’s rolling hills are a place of extraordinary beauty, a fitting repository for the memory of the living history of the United States. Names from the history books leap off the pages as one strolls through the grounds: “Byrd, Taft, Lincoln, Kennedy, Rickover, Marshall, Pershing,” followed by the names of the thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and coast guardsman who gave their lives to secure the freedoms promised by the American Constitution.

In his remarks today, President Barack Obama reminded Americans they must honor the sacrifices of their military service members, particularly as U.S. combat roles change and the nation’s involvement in Afghanistan is winding down.

Adding that Arlington “has always been home to men and women who are willing to give their all … to preserve and protect the land that we love,” the President praised the selflessness that “beats in the hearts” of America’s military personnel.

Obama’s words stuck with me as I walked along through the ocean of gravestones, pausing occasionally to read the names, the inscriptions, and wonder what each person was like.

Scattered throughout the graves proudly marked with miniature American flags fluttering in the bright noontime sunlight, I observed families, loved ones, and friends who had come to honor their fallen.

Then I happened upon one grey haired older gentleman standing quietly in front of a headstone, obviously lost in his thoughts. As I tried to unobtrusively move around him, he looked up at me and smiled.

I greeted him, and he greeted me back. He saw my press credentials hanging from around my neck and then asked whom I worked for.

I told him, momentarily wondering what type of reception I’d receive as, let’s face it, the LGBTQ community still has its detractors, and to my shock, he looked back at me, with tears forming in his eyes.

“You’re gay?”

“I am,” I answered.

“Lot of changes since I was a, a kid,” he trailed off. I pointed at headstone and quietly asked if the person was a friend or a family member.

“He’s my, well was my best bud, yeah, I dunno…”

The gentleman looked stricken and it was certainly not my intention to interview him, impromptu or not. But yet I sensed that something was left hanging so I took the plunge and asked him for a few details, if he didn’t mind sharing them. As it turns out, that’s exactly what he wanted… to share, to have a conversation about the person whose grave we were standing over.

The two men had grown up in eastern Ohio, in a small rural farming community. They played football, went fishing, did farm work, and discovered that after a few failed attempts at pursuing the fairer sex, their real romantic interests laid in each other.

By the time they had graduated from high school, the Vietnam conflict had escalated and, rather than wait to be drafted, they decided to join the U.S. Marines together. They went to boot camp, and not long after graduation, found themselves on troop planes headed for Vietnam.

“We were lucky,” he said, “We both got assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 26th regiment.”

But good luck turned sour as their battalion found itself in the middle of one of the nastiest battles of the 1968 Tet Offensive in the battle for Khe Sanh.

“I lost him that morning,” he told me, pointing at the inscribed date of death on the simple white marker — February 7, 1968. “He was just 19.”

The tears came freely and I waited. Then we talked some more.

He told me that after he lost his love, “I went straight and got married.” Just a few years ago, he lost his wife to cancer he said.

He has grandkids that he says will never know the truth — he just can’t be open with them, but at the same time, never does a day go by that he doesn’t think about and mourn the loss of his friend, his partner — and the promise of what might have been.

“I was glad to see DADT end,” he told me. “At least some other couples won’t have to hide like we did.”

I thanked him for his service and his time talking with me and walked away reflecting on all of the unknown LGBT military folk buried around me who, like that lost soldier, suffered in silence and hid, yet still believed in a greater good of which they ultimately gave their lives for their country.

***************************************

Across Layfette Park on Vermont Avenue NW, a block from the White House, stands a non-descript government office building that houses the headquarters of the Department of Veterans Affairs. On a pair of metal plaques at its entrance is inscribed the words of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, which define the motto of the agency: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs is a leading provider for healthcare for LGBTQ+ vets.

While the VA is working to be a national leader in health care for LGBTQ veterans and wants to assure that high-quality care is provided in a sensitive, respectful environment at all VA health care sites nationwide, the fact remains that these LGBTQ+ veterans can face increased health risks and unique challenges in accessing quality health care.

Maj. Tyler McBride, 62nd Fighter Squadron F-35A Lightning II instructor pilot, and Capt. Justin Lennon, 56th Training Squadron F-35 instructor pilot, hold an LGBTQ+ Pride flag after a Pride Month flyby June 26, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. McBride and Lennon performed the flyby over Luke AFB to celebrate and highlight the LGBTQ+ community. (Leala Marquez/U.S. Air Force)

Many of LGBTQ+ veterans may receive care at the Department of Veterans Affairs, but others may be unaware of what services are available or have concerns about discrimination.

A question poised is simple; What is VA’s policy on LGBTQ veterans?

According to the VA, its policy is—all veterans deserve respect and dignity. VA has a nondiscrimination patient care policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Specifically, it is the policy of VHA “…that staff provide clinically appropriate, comprehensive, veteran-centered care with respect and dignity to enrolled or otherwise eligible transgender and intersex veterans, including but not limited to hormonal therapy, mental health care, preoperative evaluation and medically necessary post-operative and long-term care following gender confirming /affirming surgery. It is VHA policy that veterans must be addressed based upon their self-identified gender identity… ” (VHA Directive 1341, p. 3)

What services does VA provide for LGBTQ veterans?

Each VA facility is required to have an LGBTQ coordinator who can connect veterans with culturally competent providers, educate staff about where gaps in knowledge/training exist and to help create a more welcoming environment. (VHA Directive 1341, May 23, 2018)

The VA is authorized to provide:

  • Hormone treatment
  • Substance use/alcohol treatment
  • Tobacco cessation treatment
  • Treatment and information on prevention of sexually transmitted infections/PrEP
  • Intimate partner violence reduction and treatment of after effects
  • Heart health
  • Appropriate cancer screening, prevention and treatment

What can LGBTQ veterans expect when accessing their earned benefits?

It is important for LGBTQ veterans to let providers know about sexual activity and identity so they can appropriately screen them for potential medical issues. Additionally, VA providers may ask about sexual orientation, gender identity, sexual health and social experiences which may involve exposure to violence in the home, or assess for homelessness. This information can help providers guide veterans to resources, services and programs that can address their unique needs.

LGBTQ veterans can be assured their providers will keep any information they reveal confidential. They can ask that their gender identify or sexual orientation not be revealed in their medical record although this may compromise their ability to receive appropriate care.

Where can a veteran learn more?

More information on the VA’s LGBTQ veterans policies and programs can be found here. The VA has also made available the following fact sheets to identify health care topics for sexual and gender minorities:

By combing through digital devices donated by surviving family members, non-profit “Stop Soldier Suicide” is on a mission to help prevent veteran suicides. Investigators look through emails, texts, and even search histories to identify potential warning signs with hopes that one day their technology will help at-risk veterans when they need it the most.

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Think tank shuts down: Study shows little LGBTQ impact on military

After 24 years of researching LGBT military service bans, the Palm Center announced September 19 it was closing its doors on September 25

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Color Guard members from the Navy and Marine Corps march at the 2018 San Diego Pride Parade. (MC3 Nicholas Burgains/Navy)

GOLETA, Ca. – The Palm Center, a think tank founded in 1998 at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which researched military policy concerning LGBTQ service members, most notably during the ongoing policy debates that led to the repeal in 2011 of the Clinton era policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” (DADT) announced it is shutting down.

After 24 years of researching LGBT military service bans, the independent research institute, which worked with numerous partner organizations carving out a research niche that involved conducting and publicizing studies that were leveraged to overturn two longstanding bans on service by openly LGBT troops, announced September 19 it was closing its doors on September 25.

In press statement released the Palm Center listed some of its accomplishments:

  • Spearheading hard-hitting communications campaigns grounded in research, such as uncovering data on Arabic linguists fired for being gay and discovering that the Pentagon was sending gay troops to war, only to fire them upon their return from battle
  • Paving the way for repeal of the military’s transgender ban by dismantling medical arguments that sustained discrimination, and receiving White House recognition for being one of the organizations most responsible for helping the military lift its transgender ban
  • Cultivating support for inclusion from top leaders such as former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former U.S. Surgeons General
  • Conducting 65 research studies, many of which were published in top peer-reviewed as well as military journals

“Few organizations figured out how to move the needle on military opinion so effectively as the Palm Center,” said U.S. Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“Its research and policy guidance were invaluable in showing that inclusive service was not complicated and would not harm readiness,” he said. “The Palm Center reframed the national conversation over LGBT military service, using facts and research to conclusively demonstrate that inclusion makes our armed forces, and our country, stronger.”

Navy Admiral. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
(Photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

Mullen, who became an LGBTQ hero when, as Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in support of repealing the harmful anti-gay Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy.

“Mr. Chairman, speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do,” Mullen said. “No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.”

“For me, personally, it comes down to integrity — theirs as individuals and ours as an institution,” he said. “I also believe that the great young men and women of our military can and would accommodate such a change,” continued Mullen. “I never underestimate their ability to adapt.”

Earlier this month the Palm Center highlighted a 196-page document, published in 2021 by the Joint History and Research Office, which provides support to the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and to the Joint Staff, that found that opposition to open service by gay, lesbian, and bisexual troops was based on overblown fears among both military leadership and the rank and file.

The study also found that found that concerns about combat effectiveness and unit cohesion were basically unfounded.

The study began in 2012, Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman Joe Holstead told Military Times this week, in recognition of “the historical significance of the 2010 decision to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ ” and released ― but not publicized ― in April 2021.

The study, “Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: A Historical Perspective from the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” is a public document that appears to mirror a 2016 classified report with the same title. It is unclear why the report was originally classified. The Palm Center sought comment from the Joint History and Research Office but did not receive a response.

“Time and again, opponents of equality have claimed that inclusion would harm America’s most important institutions and threaten the nation itself,” said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center. “And time and again, that’s turned out to be false. This official military study makes clear the yawning gap between fearmongering and reality, and should guide dialogue about similar claims in the present, such as fears that inclusion for transgender Americans is somehow a threat to our society.”

The report describes dramatic fears of harm to readiness during the 2009-10 lead-up to the ban’s repeal, and contrasts them with consistent findings of no impact. A section entitled, “A Nonissue,” reports that some of the service chiefs who had opposed repeal or predicted harm to unit cohesion and effectiveness, conceded that their concerns were unfounded, and that readiness concerns were often based on misperceptions and stereotypes.

General James Amos, Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps and the most vociferous opponent of inclusion in the upper ranks of the military, had told Congress at the time that repeal “has strong potential for disruption at the small unit level as it will no doubt divert leadership attention away from an almost singular focus on preparing units for combat.”

Yet “two months later, General James Amos told reporters that the policy change had been a ‘non-event’” and that he was “very pleased” with how the policy change had gone. 

Similarly, when the military’s combatant commanders were asked to assess the impact of repeal on readiness, effectiveness, cohesion, recruiting, and retention two months after the ban ended, they “reported no impact on any of these categories.”

Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff after Mullen, told Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in 2013 (two years after repeal) that he agreed with the combatant commanders’ conclusion that the policy change had “no impact” in undermining readiness.

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Pentagon celebrates Pride, LGBTQ+ progress & Trans visibility

The event took place in the Pentagon auditorium under the theme of “All Together” & highlighted progress for LGBTQ people serving

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Lt. Col. Bree Fram, Deputy chief of acquisition polices & processes, U.S. Space Force speaking at DoD Pride 2022 (Screenshot/YouTube DoD TV)

ARLINGTON, Va. – Transgender visibility in the U.S. military was on full display on Tuesday during the Pentagon’s annual event recognizing Pride month, which this year featured two transgender speakers in prominent positions in the aftermath of the Biden administration lifting the transgender military ban.

The event — hosted in coordination with DOD Pride, the affinity group for LGBTQ employees and service members within the Defense Department — took place in the Pentagon auditorium under the theme of “All Together” and highlighted progress in stripping away barriers previously preventing LGBTQ people from serving in their roles, such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the transgender military ban.

Lt. Col. Bree Fram, who’s transgender and deputy chief of acquisition polices and processes at U.S. Space Force, said she often feared she would no longer be able to serve in uniform based on the “whim of executive orders.” But two months ago when she disclosed to colleagues she was having surgery to treat cancer, she received overwhelming support.

“That’s the spirit of all together: Leadership was behind me because they would have been behind any member of the team going through one of the scariest moments of their life,” Fram said. “They know that each of us brings value to the team and that all of us are worthy of the support needed to be our best selves.”

Fram, co-leader of the transgender policy team within the Department of the Air Force’s LGBTQ initiative team, recounted the experience of a transgender service member whose colleagues refused to use her personal pronouns and began putting them in her email signature in defiance of military policy. Although colleagues had initially sought to ban her from the network, Fram said a supervisor stepped in to revise and allow the service members to continue using them in emails.

“So for all of you out there, I ask you to set out your symbols of pride, share your pronouns in your email, particularly if you’re a person who doesn’t think they need to,” Fram said. “Initiate difficult conversations about racial and gender barriers and share a bit of your vulnerability in a way that draws others in.”

Shawn Skelly, who’s transgender and assistant secretary of defense for readiness, also spoke and drew heavily from President Biden’s proclamation for Pride month to discuss the challenges still facing LGBTQ people after years of progress.

“America’s formative promise to itself remains today tangibly unfulfilled for too many Americans,” Skelly said. “And remarkably, for the LGBTQ+ Americans of today, we’re increasingly at specific, targeted risk, which includes those serving within this department.”

Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones, who’s a lesbian, also spoke and remarked on the progress seen in the military since she was forced to sign a document as a cadet of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” prohibiting her from participating in homosexual acts.

“I knew exactly what that meant: I knew that my opportunity to get an education. I knew that my opportunity to serve our country. I knew my opportunity to die for our country or maybe all of that would go away, just because at the time we did not have enough leaders with the courage to say anybody ready and willing to serve their country should have the opportunity to do so,” Jones said.

Jones recounted a story after she took office in the Biden administration and wanted to set up a photo shoot with other LGBTQ service members who had served under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” To her surprise on the day of the shoot, Jones said, many younger service members too young to remember the law showed up and were part of the photograph.

“But I leaned over and I said, ‘Hey, you know, what’s going on here? Some of these folks look a little too young to serve,”” Jones said. “And they said, ‘Oh no, many of these folks wanted to be part of the picture because they are serving because ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ was repealed … So it really shows you what is possible when you’re willing to do the hard work that talent in our country among those serving — the talent we are able to tap into — if we are willing to remove those barriers to ensure folks can serve to their full potential.”

The top defense official present was Kathleen Hicks, who promoted the Defense Department as having a commitment to advancing policies and programs aimed at developing “a leadership pipeline of diverse talent and create pathways for everyone at DOD to realize their potential.”

“We know that organizational climates affect our workforces’ experiences,” Hicks said. “More to the point it affects our warrior readiness. Therefore, we are directing initiatives to improve leader skill development and foster more effective inclusive team environments.”

Hicks said the Defense Department is in the final stages of developing a diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility plan, which she said will direct activities within the department and identify priorities within the coming year.

Among those in attendance at the event were British Ambassador to the United States Karen Price; Secretary of the Navy Carlos del Toro; Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calf.); Maj. Gen. Leah Lauderback, director of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for U.S. Space Force; White House Director of Presidential Personnel Gautam Raghavan; and Ruben Gonzalez, special assistant to the president for White House Domestic Agency Personnel.

Pentagon Officials Speak at Pride Ceremony:

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On this Memorial Day 2022, a look back & a remembrance

This Memorial Day 2022 in remembrance of all LGBTQ+ Americans who wore the uniform & fought to defend the nation let us honor them all

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President Biden delivers remarks at Arlington National Cemetery, Memorial Day 2022, May 30 (Screenshot/WH YouTube)

LOS ANGELES – On September 20, 2011, the discriminatory “Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell” ban on gay and lesbian service members was officially consigned to the dustbin of history. For nearly 17 years that ban prohibited gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans from serving in the armed forces of the United States, codifying the message that discrimination was acceptable.

In July of 2017, former President Trump in a series of Tweets banned transgender Americans from serving in the armed forces. Those tweets later became codified U.S. policy by April 2019 after several court battles all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On January 25, 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order overturning the Trump-Pence administration’s discriminatory ban on transgender service, which was crafted with members of the extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council and right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation.

A Pentagon report summarizes the history of LGBTQ in the military prior to the Clinton era ban of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell through to modern day:

It wasn’t until 1982 that the military enacted a policy explicitly banning gay men and lesbians from their ranks. Before that, however, same-sex relations were criminalized and cause for discharge. And in the early 1940s, it was classified as a mental illness, disqualifying gay men and lesbians from service.

In 1993, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy went into effect allowing closeted LGBTQ people to serve in the military. Under the policy, service members would not be asked about their sexual orientation, but would be discharged for disclosing it. Eighteen years later, Congress repealed the policy, allowing openly gay, lesbian and bisexual people to serve in the military.

Another barrier was lifted in 2013 when spousal and family benefits were extended to same-sex married partners in the military. After ending temporarily in 2016, the ban on transgender individuals was again rescinded in 2021, allowing those who don’t identify with their biological gender to enlist and serve in the armed forces.

For LGBTQ+ military personnel and their families there are still obstacles. This past week it was learned that a draft policy is circulating among top officials of the U.S. Army that would allow soldiers to be able to request a transfer if they feel state or local laws discriminate against them based on gender, sex, religion, race or pregnancy. Pentagon sources say that there is good chance that a Department of Defense review for all services could possibly follow.

The reason for the policy has been the overt hostility by Republican lawmakers in nearly thirty one states over the past three years introducing, passing, and then getting signed into law measures that specifically target LGBTQ+ people in areas including erasure of LGBTQ+ people in grammar and secondary education, barring trans youth from playing on sports teams that match their gender identity, and a probable overturn of Roe v. Wade dramatically impacting women’s rights in their healthcare especially reproductive choices.

In those years prior to open service after 2011 and before the ‘Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell’ era there was one extremely brave American Vietnam War veteran, the first documented gay service member to purposely out himself to the U.S. military to fight the ban on gays, and perhaps the best-known openly gay man in the United States of America in the 1970s next to San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, himself a veteran of the U.S. Navy.

In 1955, Milk resigned from the Navy at the rank of lieutenant, junior grade, forced to accept an “other than honorable” discharge and leave the service rather than face a court-martial because of his homosexuality.

TIME

That man was U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich.

Matlovich, encouraged by another military veteran and prominent gay rights activist, Franklin Kameny who served in the U.S. Army throughout World War II in Europe, Outed himself as he and Kamney challenged the military’s ban on homosexuals serving.

Wikipedia notes that his fight to stay in the United States Air Force after coming out of the closet became a cause célèbre around which the gay community rallied. His case resulted in articles in newspapers and magazines throughout the country, numerous television interviews, and a television movie on NBC. His photograph appeared on the cover of the September 8, 1975, issue of Time magazine, making him a symbol for thousands of gay and lesbian servicemembers and gay people.

Prior to Matlovich’s case there were literally tens of thousands who stayed in the closet, serving in in uniform in silence with only glimpses of their true selves captured in candid photographs and kept secretly in most instances only to be discovered years later by family members or even as just curios in antique stores or online marketplaces.

Vintage photo of an American gay military couple date unknown

On this Memorial Day 2022, in remembrance of all of the LGBTQ+ Americans who wore the uniform of their country and fought to enshrine the freedoms and rights that they- themselves didn’t directly benefit from and some, who like Leonard Matlovich were wounded and awarded the Purple Heart and other medals, let us honor them all.

This reporter wrote a story in 2013, two years after the repeal of Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell, about the legacy of the service of one set of those long ago gay military personnel which follows.

For a lost soldier…

By Brody Levesque | ARLINGTON, Va. — Every year that I have lived and worked in this city I have always gone to Arlington National Cemetery to observe the Memorial Day ceremonies.

Afterward, I wander through the grounds, just to watch, maybe to listen, but mostly to contemplate on the sacrifices made by those brave souls whose final resting place has become hallowed ground — a literal garden of stones.

Arlington’s rolling hills are a place of extraordinary beauty, a fitting repository for the memory of the living history of the United States. Names from the history books leap off the pages as one strolls through the grounds: “Byrd, Taft, Lincoln, Kennedy, Rickover, Marshall, Pershing,” followed by the names of the thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and coast guardsman who gave their lives to secure the freedoms promised by the American Constitution.

In his remarks today, President Barack Obama reminded Americans they must honor the sacrifices of their military service members, particularly as U.S. combat roles change and the nation’s involvement in Afghanistan is winding down.

Adding that Arlington “has always been home to men and women who are willing to give their all … to preserve and protect the land that we love,” the President praised the selflessness that “beats in the hearts” of America’s military personnel.

Obama’s words stuck with me as I walked along through the ocean of gravestones, pausing occasionally to read the names, the inscriptions, and wonder what each person was like.

Scattered throughout the graves proudly marked with miniature American flags fluttering in the bright noontime sunlight, I observed families, loved ones, and friends who had come to honor their fallen.

Then I happened upon one grey haired older gentleman standing quietly in front of a headstone, obviously lost in his thoughts. As I tried to unobtrusively move around him, he look up at me and smiled.

I greeted him, and he greeted me back. He saw my press credentials hanging from my neck and asked whom I worked for.

I told him, momentarily wondering what type of reception I’d receive as, let’s face it, the LGBTQ community still has its detractors, and to my shock, he looked back at me, with tears forming in his eyes.

“You’re gay?”

“I am,” I answered.

“Lot of changes since I was a, a kid,” he trailed off. I pointed at headstone and quietly asked if the person was a friend or a family member.

“He’s my, well was my best bud, yeah, I dunno…”

The gentleman looked stricken and it was certainly not my intention to interview him, impromptu or not. But yet I sensed that something was left hanging so I took the plunge and asked him for a few details, if he didn’t mind sharing them. As it turns out, that’s exactly what he wanted… to share, to have a conversation about the person whose grave we were standing over.

Vintage photo of an American gay couple date unknown

The two men had grown up in eastern Ohio, in a small rural farming community. They played football, went fishing, did farm work, and discovered that after a few failed attempts at pursuing the fairer sex, their real romantic interests laid in each other.

By the time they had graduated from high school, the Vietnam conflict had escalated and, rather than wait to be drafted, they decided to join the U.S. Marines together. They went to boot camp, and not long after graduation, found themselves on troop planes headed for Vietnam.

“We were lucky,” he said, “We both got assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 26th regiment.”

But good luck turned sour as their battalion found itself in the middle of one of the nastiest battles of the 1968 Tet Offensive in the battle for Khe Sanh.

“I lost him that morning,” he told me, pointing at the inscribed date of death on the simple white marker — February 7, 1968. “He was just 19.”

The tears came freely and I waited. Then we talked some more.

He told me that after he lost his love, “I went straight and got married.” Just a fews years ago, he lost his wife to cancer.

He has grandkids that he says will never know the truth — he just can’t be open with them, but at the same time, never does a day go by that he doesn’t think about and mourn the loss of his friend, his partner — and the promise of what might have been.

“I was glad to see DADT end,” he told me. “At least some other couples won’t have to hide like we did.”

I thanked him for his service and his time talking with me and walked away reflecting on all of the unknown LGBT military folk buried around me who, like that lost soldier, suffered in silence and hid, yet still believed in a greater good of which they ultimately gave their lives for their country.

As the American nation celebrates this solemn holiday, let us not forget them.

Addendum:

REMARKS BY PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN AT THE 154TH NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY OBSERVANCE
Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia

The President:

They lie here in glory and honor — in quiet rows in Arlington, in cemeteries in Europe that I visited and many of you have, in graves across our country, in towns large and small — America’s beloved daughters and sons who dared all, risked all, and gave all to preserve and defend an idea unlike any other in human history: the idea of the United States of America.
 
And today, as a nation, we undertake a sacred ritual: to reflect and to remember.  Because if we forget the lives that each of those silent markers represent — mothers, fathers, siblings, spouses, children — if we forget what they sacrificed, what they made so that our nation might endure strong, free, and united, then we forget who we are — who we are.
 
Ladies and gentlemen, our First Lady and the love of my life, Jill; Vice President Harris and the Second Gentleman; Secretary Austin; General Milley; the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Cabinet members; Gold Star families, most importantly; and survivors: Today we renew our sacred vow — it’s a simple vow: to remember.  To remember. 
 
Memorial Day is always a day where pain and pride are mixed together.  We all know it, sitting here.  Jill and I know it.  Today is the day our son died. 
 
And, folks, for those who have lost a loved one in the service of our country, if your loved one is missing or unaccounted for, I know the ceremonies reopen that black hole in the center of your chest that just pulls you in, suffocates you.
 
As I said, seven years ago today, our son, Major Beau Biden, took his last breath at Walter Reed.  A major in the Delaware Army National Guard, he insisted on deploying to Iraq
with his unit for a year when he was attorney general.  He came home a decorated soldier, a Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, and Delaware’s Conspicuous Service Cross.
 
He didn’t die in the line of duty.  He came home from Iraq with cancer.  It was a horrific cancer that stole us from him, stole — and him from us.
 
But still, it always feels to me on Memorial Day — I see him, not as he was the last time I held his hand, but the day I pinned his bars on him as a second lieutenant.
 
I see him with me down at the Delaware Memorial Bridge hugging all the Gold Star families. 
 
Days like this bring back, before your eyes, their smile and their laugh.  And the last conversation you had, each of you know it. 
 
The hurt can be overwhelming.  But for so many of you, as is with Jill and me, the hurt is wrapped around the knowledge
that your loved one was part of something bigger — bigger than any of us.
 
They chose a life of purpose.  It sounds corny, like a Memorial Day speech, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart.  They chose a life of purpose.
 
They had a mission.  And above all, they believed in duty; they believed in honor; they believed in their country.
 
And still today, we are free because they were brave.  We live by the light of the flame of liberty that they kept burning.  And so a part of them is still with us no matter how long ago we lost them.
 
And as hard as it is for many to believe, especially those whose loss is still raw, I promise you the day will come when the memory of your loved one, your patriot, will bring a smile to your lip before it brings a tear to your eye.  That’s when you know you’re going to make it.
 
Today, America’s ser- — American service members stand watch around the world, and, as many of you know, often at great personal risk.
 
And this Memorial Day, we know the memory is still painful
of all the fallen who lost their lives during the last two decades in combat.  Each of them leaving behind a family, a community.  Hearts broken by their absence, and lives that will never be the same.
 
We see in the hundreds of graves here in Section 60, at Arlington, a reminder that there’s nothing low-risk or low-cost about war for the women and men who fight it.
 
7,054 American military members gave their lives over 20 years of our Iraq and Afghan conflicts.  Untold others died of injuries and illness connected to their service and these wars.
 
And the enduring grief borne by the survivors is a cost of war that we’ll carry as a nation forever.
 
And so, to every Gold Star family, to every survivor and family member and caregiver: This grateful nation owes you as well as that person you lost.
 
And we can never repay the sacrifice, but we will never stop trying.  We’ll never fail in our duty to remember: With their lives, they bought our freedom.
 
And so, with our lives, we must always live up to their example — putting service before self; caring for our neighbors as ourselves; working fervently to bring our union just that much closer to fulfilling the founding creed, as the Secretary said, that all men and women are created equal. 
 
I’ve often said that, as a nation, we have many obligations.  But the only one that is truly sacred — the only truly sacred obligation we have — is to prepare and equip those women and men we send into harm’s way, and care for them and their families when they return home and when they don’t.
 
This is an obligation that unites Americans and brings us together — to make sure the women and men who are willing to lay down their lives for us get the very best from us in return.
 
I want to acknowledge that we’re making progress in key areas like the comprehensive, bipartisan legislation that is advancing in Congress that will deliver healthcare services and benefits to veterans and their survivors impacted by toxic exposures.
 
We don’t know how many Americans and service members may have died because of what they were exposed to on the battlefield.  The toxic smoke from burn pits near where they were based — burn pits that incinerated the wastes of war, medical and hazardous material, jet fuel, and so much more.
 
But we have a duty to do right by them.  And I am determined to make sure that our brave service families and members that served alongside them do not wait decades for the care and benefits that they deserve.  And that’s why — that’s why we’re working so hard to find out what the facts are.  Where we can still save lives, we have to act.
 
All of us also have a duty to renew our commitment to the foundational values of our nation, in their honor — for those are the values that have inspired generation after generation to service.
 
On Friday, I spoke at the graduation and commissioning of — ceremony of the U.S. Naval Academy.  I had an opportunity to do that before as well.  It was a remarkable experience again, an honor, looking out at those young men and women — newly commissioned officers — embarking on a life of service.
 
They hold before them the example of the heroes who have gone before them — many of you are family members — heroes who have answered duty’s call at Lexington and Concord, Antietam and Gettysburg, Belleau Woods and thee Battle of the Bulge, in Korea and Vietnam and Afghanistan, Iraq, and so many other places around the world — so many of whom never returned home, including the legacy of all those held prisoners of war or who are still missing in action.
 
To be here today, soon after that joyful celebration at the Academy, is a bracing reminder of all that we ask of our service members and their families — for it’s on the strong shoulders and noble spirits of our service members that our freedom is built, our democracy sustained.
 
And in this moment, when a war of aggression is once more being waged by Russia to snuff out the freedom, the democracy,
the very culture and identity of neighboring Ukraine, we so — we see so clearly all that’s at stake.
 
Freedom has never been free.  Democracy has always required champions.
 
And, today, in the perennial struggle for democracy and freedom, Ukraine and its people are on the frontlines fighting to save their nation.
 
But their fight is part of a larger fight that unites all people.  It is a fight that so many of the patriots, whose eternal rest is here in these hallowed grounds, were part of.
 
A battle between democracy and autocracy, between liberty and repression, between appetites and ambition of a few
who forever seek to dominate the lives and liberties of many.
 
A battle for essential democratic principles — the rule of law, free and fair elections, freedom to speak and write and to assemble, freedom to worship as one chooses, freedom of the press — principles that are essential for a free society.
 
You’ve heard this a lot.  You’ve heard this a lot over the years, but we’re now realizing how real it is around the world in so many countries as I speak.  These are the foundations of our great experiment, but they are never guaranteed, even here in America.
 
Every generation has to defeat democracy’s mortal foes.  And into every generation, heroes are born, willing to shed their blood for that which they and we hold dear.
 
Ladies and gentlemen, today we remember and we reaffirm: Freedom is worth the sacrifice.  Democracy is not perfect; it’s never been good — perfect.  But it’s worth fighting for; if necessary, worth dying for.
 
It’s more than just our form of government, it is part of the very soul of America.  The soul of America.
 
Our democracy is our greatest gift as a nation, made holy by those we’ve lost along the way.  Our democracy is how we undertake the constant work of perfecting the union — and we have not perfected it, but we’ve never stopped trying; of opening the doors wider of opportunity and prosperity and justice for people everywhere.
 
Our democracy is how we endure through every challenge, overcome every obstacle we faced through the last 246 years of self-government, and how we’ve come back stronger than before.
 
We must never walk away from that.  We must never betray
the lives laid down to make our nation a beacon to the world —
a citadel of liberty and justice for everybody.
 
This is the mission of our time.  Our memorial to them
must not be just a day when we pause and pray, it must be a daily commitment to act, to come together, to be worthy of the price that was paid.
 
May God bring comfort to all those who mourn.  May God bless our Gold Star families and survivors.  And please, God, protect our troops. 
 
God bless America and all of you.  Thank you.

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