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|Local veterans mark end of military’s gay ban|
|Written by Laura Douglas-Brown & Dyana Bagby|
|Friday, 30 September 2011 00:00|
There were many poignant moments Sept. 19 as about 200 Atlantans gathered in Piedmont Park to mark the end of the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. But few were as touching as when Danny Ingram, national president of American Veterans for Equal Rights, brought to the podium the very officer who had discharged him from the Army for being gay almost 20 years ago.
Ingram was discharged in 1994, one of the first victims of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He explained how now-retired Colonel Kelly R. Jimenez, who is Latino, called him into a meeting with him and the second in command, who was African-American.
“My granddaddy had to get his ass kicked so I could serve in the U.S. Army,” Ingram recalled Jimenez saying.
“His daddy had to get his ass kicked so he could serve in the U.S. Army,” Jimenez continued, referring to the black officer.
“Now, Sergeant, you are going to get your ass kicked so your people can someday serve in the U.S. Army,” Ingram recalled Jimenez telling him.
A triumphant Ingram then told the crowd, “That day is tomorrow.”
The ban on openly gay service members was officially off the books on Sept. 20, and the Sept. 19 ceremony marked the end of the last duty day under the policy.
To commemorate the end of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which was enacted in 1993 and led to almost 14,000 discharges, American Veterans for Equal Rights hosted a formal retreat ceremony at the veteran’s marker in Piedmont Park, followed by a celebration at Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse.
Taking the podium after Ingram, Jimenez – who had reconnected with his former comrade after both attended a recent funeral – described Ingram as “not just a soldier, he was my best soldier.”
Jimenez was unable to save Ingram’s military career, but recalled fighting against higher-ups who wanted him to receive not only a discharge, but a court martial.
“We did it with dignity like my best soldier deserved,” Jimenez said before praising Ingram and all who gathered at the ceremony. “You all made it, for which I congratulate you.”
Many people in the military don’t care about the sexual orientation of those with whom they serve, Jimenez stressed.
“There’s a lot of people who feel like me, too,” he said. “A soldier is a soldier is a soldier.”
The ceremony was attended by about 200, including the Atlanta Freedom Marching Band and the Our Song gay and lesbian chorus, which performed. About two dozen veterans attended.
Speakers also included U.S. Army veteran Jack Strouss, who was openly gay when he served in World War II.
Strouss, now 88, noted that he had help next to him in case he became light-headed, but he still wanted to firmly say to the military’s gay ban: “Good riddance.”
Strouss, who drew the first standing ovation from the crowd, said he had feared he wouldn’t see the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in his lifetime and flashed the “victory” sign as he left the microphone.
The evening concluded with a somber Retreat Ceremony, as a color guard made up of sometimes-tearful veterans lowered and folded the American flag that flies at the veterans’ marker.
Ingram also said during the ceremony that AVER will keep working to help transgender people, who are not helped by the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“I pledge to you before this flag that AVER will not rest until transgender people are allowed to serve in the U.S. military … we all came to this dance together and we will all leave together,” Ingram said.
‘A tipping point’
Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” fulfilled a 2008 campaign pledge from President Barack Obama.
“As of today, patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love,” Obama said Sept. 20. “As of today, our armed forces will no longer lose the extraordinary skills and combat experience of so many gay and lesbian service members.”
Congress passed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 in late December.
The act required that the policy remain on the books until the president, secretary of defense and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff certified that ending it would not negatively impact military readiness. It then required a 60-day waiting period before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would officially end.
Certification was issued on July 22, making Sept. 20 the date of repeal.
Jeff Cleghorn, an Atlanta attorney and board member with Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, hosted a “repeal day” celebration and fundraiser for SLDN at his home Sept. 20.
Guests celebrated with champagne and an original copy of the DADT repeal signed by Obama was auctioned off for $1,500 for SLDN. The document was donated by longtime gay activist Ken Britt and purchased by husbands Nathan Woodard-Persily and Seth Woodard Persily.
“This is a culmination of ... what feels like a lifetime effort,” Cleghorn said at the event. “I was in the ROTC in high school and college and served 12 years in the Army. I’ve been directly involved in the repeal effort since 1993.”
A former staff member of SLDN and now a board member of the organization that aids LGBT service members, Cleghorn said he believes the repeal of DADT is a victory for the whole cause of equality “and perhaps a tipping point for more victories to come.”
“I’ve seen scores of gay and lesbian troops who’ve come out very publicly, on YouTube and Facebook. Their stories ... are very powerful and I think those stories will resonate with Americans,” he said.
Cleghorn said he also believes the repeal will be helpful to other organizations working on issues of marriage equality, employment nondiscrimination and transgender rights.
The Urban Institute estimates there are more than 33,000 gay and lesbian veterans in Georgia.
“And certainly there are many military institutions in Georgia and goodness knows how many LGBT troops are working in Georgia,” Cleghorn said.
“But more broadly, Georgia is an inhospitable climate for our people,” he said. “I believe as a former Southern Baptist that proselytizing has some value and as we share our stories, we tell our truths to our neighbors and coworkers and our friends and families.
“The more gay people in Georgia do this, the quicker we are all going to be equal in Georgia.”
Top photo: Atlanta commemorated the end of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ with a Retreat Ceremony on Sept. 19 at Piedmont Park hosted by American Veterans for Equal Rights (by Laura Douglas-Brown)
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