Yesterday I had the chance to speak at the Staff College’s LGBT Pride ceremony. I asked to speak because I felt it was important for people to get a historical and personal account from a heterosexual who has served continuously since 1981. I have recounted my story of how as a white, heterosexual, Christian, military officer and chaplain my journey to support the rights of LGBTQ people.
Though I have written about this subject many times, today was the first time that I spoke in front of peers and colleagues. I was able to recount how things have changed since I entered the army in 1981. That was a time when it was easy to demean and even persecute LGBTQ people. The amount of anti-gay prejudice then was pervasive and so normal that it didn’t even seem wrong. Likewise, it was not permitted for Gays to serve in the military, and even if they were exemplary soldiers, sailors, Marines, or airman even an unprovable allegation by someone was enough to ensure that they were punished and discharged from the military under other than honorable conditions.
After I was commissioned and sent to Germany to serve in a Medical company, I had soldiers in my platoon who were either Gay or Lesbian. They were exceptionally discreet and were some of the best soldiers in the company. These men and women were exceptional, they volunteered for duties beyond what was needed, and when others fell down on the job, the stepped in, doing extra work and taking field assignments. They were solid, dependable, and always ready to do more that required to get the mission done. At that moment I realized that Gays and Lesbians should be allowed to serve.
When I became the company commander dealing far too many other real disciplinary issues ranging from sexual assault, drug use, robbery, vandalism, DUI, and other assorted issues, I realized that it would be stupid to punish some of my best soldiers, and to create a lot more work for me, so I began my own policy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell over seven years before that policy went into effect.
My next assignment was at the Academy of Health Sciences at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. There I served as the Adjutant for the Academy Brigade. I was a newly promoted Captain and recent graduate of the army’s Military Personnel Officer course. It was about that time that HIV and AIDS became a national concern, and military physicians and researchers, realizing that this was a threat to military health and readiness were in the forefront of the efforts to find out about this disease. Likewise, the military needed personnel policies that would allow servicemen and women infect with HIV to be able to continue their service.
As a result, being that I was the junior medical personnel officer present, and senior officers wanted nothing to do with HIV or those infected I was assigned to work with Department of the Army personnel on developing personnel policies for those infected, and to be the point of contact for every soldier in our command who had tested positive for HIV. Those experiences with men infected with HIV gave me a compassion for their suffering, and made me question things that many of my Christian friends said about Gays. Instead of people to be scorned and consigned to hell, I realized that they were deserving of empathy and compassion. After I left active duty and went to seminary and became a chaplain I did a pastoral care residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas, where I was immersed in the life and death struggles of men and women dying of AIDS related infections and cancers. I saw men who were dying who were treated shamefully by their “Christian” family members and had their partners forbidden to be with them in their dying hours. At the same time I saw other Christian families care for and love the partners of their dying sons.
I was in the National Guard when the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy went into effect. It was a step in the right direction, but not enough. I knew Gays and Lesbians who served, but still lived in fear that something might lead to their removal from the service for simply being Gay. I remember one of my friends, now retired, who spent the first 18 years of her career in fear and on more than one occasion during the DADT era being investigated by her command due to allegations made against her. I cannot imagine what that would be like.
Since returning to active duty in the navy in 1999 I have served with sailors and Marines, officers and enlisted who were Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual. Most were exemplary Sailors and Marines. Some are still serving, but now after the repeal of DADT are able to do so openly. Likewise, with ruling in favor of Marriage Equality in the Obergfell v. Hodges case, these men and women can now marry, and their spouses are considered military spouses.
I a proud to serve alongside these men and women, people who swear the same oath that I have to support and defend the Constitution of the United Staates, and our nation in a time of war when under one percent of the American population serves in the military. They are part of my military family, my brothers and sisters who go into harm’s way to defend our way of life.
So yesterday I was proud to speak out, not just giving my story in a nutshell, but recounting examples from history and connecting the most important thing for me; that being the radical proposition that is the heart of the Declaration of Independence, “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men…”
For me that is the most important thing, and it is something that I am always reminded of when I visit Gettysburg and read Abraham Lincoln’s univeralization of those rights in his Gettysburg Address. In that short speech, Lincoln noted that our founders created a new nation, “conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Lincoln’s words were as revolutionary, and perhaps even more than those contained in the Declaration of Independence, because he was now fighting a war against fellow Americans who had seceded from the Union based on the proposition that blacks were not citizens, and for that matter were less human than whites, something specified in the Confederate Constitution and declared in each declaration of secession voted on by the states that made up the Confederacy.
The truth that all men are created equal and that this nation is dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal is the basis of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, the 19th Amendment, the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, as well as the decision to repeal DADT and the recent Supreme Court Rulings which gave LGBTQ people the right to marry. For me, this is the extension of Liberty, and finally I was able to speak publicly to affirm that I stand by my LGBTQ friends, realizing, like Lincoln, that this is still an “unfinished work” and I dedicate myself to continue to stand alongside them in an era where many still would attempt to restrict those rights, or even kill them simply because of who they are.
Because of this I will continue to speak out and right in support of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters who serve our country, as well as all people.
So have a good day,