Frontlines: The Latest from OutServe-SLDN
Yesterday I woke up feeling somewhat unwell - probably a virus, combined with neurological stuff. Our arborist, Ben, was coming over to fell several backyard trees that had grown too big. Some needed to go so that other trees would be healthier and happier.
As Ben began to “treescape” our yard, I decided to rest and turned on CSPAN. To my surprise, the Honorable Jeh Johnson, General Counsel for the Department of Defense, was speaking about the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" (DADT) at a special LGBT Pride event at the Pentagon. The auditorium was standing-room-only, filled with civilians and active duty service members and veterans, many of whom were probably gay.
Sitting riveted to the TV, I thought, “Wow, this is how it is now and will be forever. We don’t need to hide any more. We are free to be ourselves, even in the Pentagon! All that work, all the long hours have come to a beautiful ending for us who are in our later years, and a new beginning for younger, active duty members of the gay and lesbian community.”
Tears welled up.
After a while I needed to talk with Ben about his treescaping. As he hung high on his climbing rope from our ponderosa pine, I blurted out to him that I am a retired Navy commander and fought for many years to repeal DADT. I told him I was overwhelmed by this historic Pentagon presentation. To think, I said, that we did it — we changed the law and policy so that active duty men and women can be open about their sexual orientation and feel free to be themselves.
“Long overdue,” Ben responded.
The Pentagon speakers included Gordon Tanner, Principal Deputy General Counsel of the U.S. Air Force, who spoke eloquently, encouraging those listening to “be as visible as you can." In other words, come out of the closet whenever and wherever you feel okay. This credo is one I have lived by since 1993, but especially since 2006 when I chose to participate with vigor in our battle to repeal DADT. Time and again I have been supported in southern Oregon by strangers, as well as by the LGBT community.
After the Pentagon ceremony, I walked out our back door and observed a vastly different view, one with more depth, more light, and more beauty. The dominant, oppressing ponderosa had been removed and the weeping cherry and limber pines could now have more light and space and more opportunity to flourish. I thought to myself, "Is this not similar to the new view that I had heard from Johnson, Gordon Tanner and the other panelists?"
My service was from 1960 to 1980. Now, the oppression I felt then has finally been removed by the work of SLDN and many other players who worked with indomitable spirit and teamwork to chop down unnecessary laws and policies and allow us all to be free to be ourselves in a healthier environment than that in which I served so many years ago.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Retired Navy Commander Beth F. Coye, a public advocate and writer, has fought for the rights of gay and lesbian service members over a span of many years, as both a Board member and a member of the Military Advisory Council of SLDN. She has written extensively about equal rights and freedom for the LGBT community and her op-eds have been published throughout the country. Born and raised in a Navy family, she served 21 years of active duty as a naval officer, which included 3 tours of intelligence duty as well as a commanding officer assignment. She lives with her longtime companion of more than 30 years, Esther Bell, and their two bichons, Callie and Willie.
06-27-12 By CDR Beth Coye, USN (Ret) | Comment (0)
I have a confession to make. When my husband, A1C Daniel Henderson, and I first volunteered to represent Servicemembers Legal Defense Network at Denver Pride, we had an ulterior motive in mind. Yes, we were happy to share our story about our struggle for marriage equality within the military, but in addition, we knew this opportunity would get us out of Cheyenne, Wyoming for a weekend! Daniel and I are stationed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, and we live a very quiet, unassuming life in a sleepy little town in a very conseravtive state. So, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to spend the weekend in the "big city."
As plaintiffs in SLDN's DOMA challenge McLaughin v. Panetta, we were asked to share our story with the public attending Denver Pride and to help educate people about the many inequalities that remain in the military following the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT). While there are many, many things that still need to be changed before there is true equality for LGBT military members and their families, Daniel and I soon realized that it was as important for us to educate the public about the services SLDN provides as it was to share our own story.
Yes, we mentioned to a few people that we were plaintiffs in a law suit challenging the constitutionality of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, but we encountered so many young gay and lesbian military members who had never heard of SLDN before. So, it was just as important for us to let people know about the wonderful work SLDN does - as has done for almost 20 years on behalf of LGBT service members and their families.
And I can't tell you how many former military members came up to our booth and told us stories about how SLDN had helped them fight discharge, discrimination, or harassment. One man, a former intelligence officer, told us that in 1994 SLDN saved his life. Another current service member told us about how SLDN helped him fight being discharged just months before DADT was officially repealed.
There were so many moving stories that people shared with us at Denver Pride, and listening to them is really made me feel proud. Pride celebrations for the LGBT community are opportunities for us to come together and acknowledge who we are as people. But for me, this year at Denver Pride, I wasn’t just proud to be gay. I was proud to represent an organization that does such vital work on behalf of the LGBT military community. While I certainly don't mind the limelight or the attention the law suit has brought my husband and me, we both realize that the fight for full equality is bigger than ourselves, and we are so proud and so honored to be represented by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jerret Henderson lives in Cheyenne, WY, with his husband, Airman First Class Daniel Henderson. The two are plaintiffs in SLDN's landmark case, McLaughlin v. Panetta, challenging the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and other federal laws that prevent gay and lesbian service members and veterans from equal support and recognition.
06-24-12 By Jerret Henderson | Comment (0)
Next week, we will formally announce that Admiral Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will headline SLDN's celebration of the first anniversary of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) repeal this September. But you can use this link today to get your tickets early.
This historic and emotional event presents a unique – indeed, a once in a lifetime – opportunity to reinforce the meaningful part that Admiral Mullen played in the DADT repeal process.
Indeed, members of Congress and observers alike sat transfixed as he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 2, 2010, at the height of the repeal fight, saying:
"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, it comes down to integrity – theirs as individuals and ours as an institution."
We are thrilled to honor Admiral Mullen with this event and hope you will be able to join us. We look forward to announcing additional exciting details about this event next week!
Click here to purchase your tickets today. We look forward to celebrating with you in New York City on September 18!
06-21-12 By Aubrey Sarvis, Army Veteran & SLDN Executive Director | Comment (0)
Booed Soldier and Husband, SLDN Clients, Join National Marriage Campaign. Freedom to Marry and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) on Monday released a new online video featuring Army Captain Stephen Hill and his husband, Joshua Snyder, spotlighting the inequalities forced upon gay and lesbian service members by the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Hill - who drew national support when he was booed during a Republican presidential debate after asking a question via video regarding repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) - recently returned from a deployment to the Middle East. Hill and Snyder are also plaintiffs in landmark litigation filed in October 2011 by SLDN on behalf of eight married gay and lesbian service members and veterans challenging DOMA and other federal statutes that are being used to prevent the military from providing the same protections and support to all families. For more information on the case, click here.
Secretary Panetta Releases Historic Video Marking LGBT Pride Month. On Friday, SLDN responded to an historic video released by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, in recognition of LGBT Pride Month. To watch the video and read SLDN's statement of support, click here.
GOP Senators Take Legal Action Supporting DOMA. On Tuesday, SLDN responded to an Amicus Curiae brief filed by ten Republican U.S. Senators in the case Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management asserting that no harm was intended to LGBT Americans through the passage of the DOMA, and that the law is the result of a significant government interest in clarifying the federal definition of marriage. To read SLDN's statement, click here.
30 Days of Pride. Each day throughout the month of June, SLDN is profiling individuals on the front lines making a difference today in the fight for full LGBT military equality. To view the profiles, click here.
06-15-12 By Zeke Stokes, SLDN Communications Director | Comment (0)
SLDN Launches 30 Days of Pride! On Friday, SLDN launched a month-long campaign, 30 Days of Pride, that will profile individuals and organizations making a difference today in the fight for full LGBT military equality. The campaign will feature a new profile per day throughout the month of June - LGBT Pride Month - and begins by spotlighting the plaintiffs in SLDN's landmark litigation, McLaughlin v. U.S. The lawsuit, filed in October 2011, challenges the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and three other federal statutes that may be interpreted to preclude the military from providing equal recognition, support, and benefits to the families of gay and lesbian service members and veterans. Be sure to check back each day in June for a new profile.
SLDN Joins Pride Events Throughout U.S. in the Month of June. In addition to posting a new profile each day, SLDN will be on the road at LGBT Pride celebrations across the U.S. throughout the month of June. These include Honolulu, Boston, Denver, New Orleans, and New York City. For a complete listing, click here.
DOMA Again Ruled Unconstitutional by U.S. Courts. On Thursday, Army Veteran and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis applauded a new decision by the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. To read SLDN's statement, click here.
SLDN Board Co-Chairs Mark Memorial Day by Honoring Fallen LGBT Service Members. To read their blog, click here.
06-01-12 By Zeke Stokes, SLDN Communications Director | Comment (0)