On this Veterans Day, I add my appreciation to all who have served our nation with honor, especially those gay and lesbian individuals who, until very recently, were forced to serve in silence.
I think of Alan Turing who decoded the Nazi code and saved so many lives. And Drill Sergeant Miriam Ben-Shalom, Staff Sergeant Perry Watkins, Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, and so many more who served with distinction.
Perhaps the most colorful of my heroes is Women's Army Corps (WAC) soldier Nell Johnny Phelps, who served as World War II Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight Eisenhower's staffer and driver.
During the German occupation, Eisenhower announced that he had been made aware that there were lesbians in his command and wanted his staff to prepare a list so that they could be removed. Phelps tells the story that she announced that her name would have to be at the top of the list. Eisenhower’s secretary said that she would also add her own. Eisenhower, as the story goes, looked at these honorable military women who he worked with every day and told them to cease making that horrible list.
Many years ago, I received the Johnny Phelps Medal of Honor from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network in Oregon. At that ceremony, I met my heroine, Johnnie Phelps. She was even more of a character in person, and she attended the event wearing a lavender tuxedo.
It is also on this somber anniversary that I think of Sergeant Leonard Matlovich, a Vietnam veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, who was discharged under the military’s anti-gay policy. His gravestone reads, "When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one."
Today, I thank all of the men and woman in the military, men and women who have served in the past or those who are still fighting overseas. I am also grateful for those leaders in elected or appointed office, and those advocates and activists, those rabble-rousers and those quiet lovers of justice who made sure that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, became a thing of the past. I thank them for writing this important page in our movement for equality — that all may serve with dignity and in truth.
I know that we have a long way to go until LGBT people are equal in the military. Our transgender brothers and sisters in arms are still denied that basic dignity of serving their country openly and honestly, but I know that with these heroes of our past and the leaders of our future, we will realize the dream of equality.