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Monday, 30 June 2014 15:38

Hope in the Desert

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Hope in the Desert Photo: Garth Langley

HOPE IN THE DESERT: SERVICE MEMBERS OBSERVE DOD PRIDE MONTH IN AFGHANISTAN

By Garth Langley

Harvey Milk once said, “The important thing is not that we cannot live on hope alone, but that life is not worth living without it.” Decades after his assassination, Milk’s larger-than-life presence reverberates throughout the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender community. His vision for equality and inclusion for LGBT Americans transcended his time. 

As a Naval officer, during the Korean War, Milk served aboard the USS Kittiwake as a diving officer. He was one of the first openly gay elected political leaders in San Francisco, and will forever be known as an activist who lived and died believing in the vehicle of change, hope. “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet shatter every closet door,” said Milk.

For his trailblazing efforts, Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom during 2009. He sparked necessary change in LGBT rights across all spheres of American society, including the military. Activists who were at the helm during the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the defeat of the Defense of Marriage Act were successful because of his vision.

On the morning after the one-year anniversary of the defeat of DOMA and on the eve of the 45th anniversary of the New York Stonewall Inn Riots, approximately 50 service members represented by all five branches of the U.S. military, along with members of the U.K. military and civilian contractors gathered to recognize the Department of Defense’s LGBT Month, aboard Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, June 27, 2014. 

The observance joined a long list of pride events at military bases across the United States and overseas. This weekend also joined LGBT events such as the New York City Pride, San Francisco LGBT Pride, and the upcoming San Diego LGBT Pride celebration in July. 

San Diego Pride has been at the forefront of LGBT military news since the repeal of DADT. In 2011, active-duty service members marched in the parade wearing branch-specific shirts. In 2012 and 2013, a movement of service members garnered international media attention that led to the authorization for service members to wear approved dress uniforms in the civic event.

PRESIDENTIAL PROCLAMATION 

On May 30th, 2014, the White House released a proclamation signed by President Barack Obama declaring June as LGBT Pride Month. “As progress spreads from state to state, as justice is delivered in the courtroom, and as more of our fellow Americans are treated with dignity and respect our Nation becomes not only more accepting, but more equal as well. During Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, we celebrate victories that have affirmed freedom and fairness, and we recommit ourselves to completing the work that remains,” stated the proclamation. 

The proclamation was celebrated at a very important time in LGBT history. On June 28, 1969, gay rights activists took to the streets of New York after police unduly raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar. The riots that ensued led to a revolutionary gay rights movement and the beginnings of the modern-day pride celebrations. 

“This month, as we mark 45 years since the patrons of the Stonewall Inn defied an unjust policy and awakened a nascent movement, let us honor every brave leader who stood up, sat in, and came out, as well as the allies who supported them along the way. Following their example, let each of us speak for tolerance, justice, and dignity because if hearts and minds continue to change over time, laws will too,” said President Barack Obama in the proclamation. 

On May 31, 2014, the DoD released an official memorandum announcing it would join the “Nation in celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month during the month of June. The LGBT community has written a proud chapter in this fundamentally American story by reminding us that integrity and respect remain corner stones of our military and civilian culture,” stated the memorandum. 

U.S. Navy Petty Officer Second Class Aaronchristian Abreu, 24, a hospital corpsman and native of Los Angeles, joined fellow deployed service members to organize a pride observance aboard Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan.

“As an openly gay service member, the pride observance means a lot,” said Abreu. “It is celebrating and recognizing that our gay, lesbians and bisexual brothers and sisters can now serve freely without the fear of reprisal due to their sexual orientation. Recognizing the LGBT community, shows that we are setting the example to our civilian counterparts, and that we do not discriminate. We welcome everyone to our organization and value the diverse talents, skills that they have regardless of their national origin, race, religious belief, gender or sexual orientation.”

HOPE IN THE DESERT 

Before being deconstructed last month, a rectangular wooden chapel stood in the center of dusty Camp Leatherneck. A large sign was posted out front with jet-black spray-paint lettering that read, “Hope in the Desert.” While everyone faces the stress of being away while on a deployment, LGBT service members once faced the added burden of concealing their sexual orientation. Friday’s ceremony was a clear indication of how those fears have decreased since the repeal of DADT.

The hour long program began with a dual-rendition of the National Anthem by U.S. Marines 1st Lt. Skye Martin and Lance Cpl. Aubrey Hepler.

With heads bowed and a moment of silence, U.K. Chaplain Squadron Leader Alex Hopson delivered the invocation. “You have broken down barriers. You have made rainbows dance in our eyes. You’ve offered us dreams that reach for the galaxies. You have awakened the long craving for love,” said Hopson.

The ceremony was followed by a reading of President Obama’s LGBT Month Proclamation and a selected top ten list of historic LGBT moments. Service members and military contractors formed up behind the podiums to read the list.

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