American Heroes

I’ve written before about my experience serving in the pre-DADT military, and the status of lesbian & gay service members has continued to be cause near and dear to my heart. In the days before & during DADT, the military was a less-than-welcoming place for LGBT service members. Those who served lived with the constant fear of “outing” and investigation, arrest, courts martial, and sometimes even physical attack. In every case, discovery meant certain expulsion from the military, regardless of one’s record of service or ability, and the less-than-honorable discharge would become a proverbial scarlet letter, affecting employment and one’s standing in the community forever.

For those who remained in the military, the ever-present fear kept them firmly entrenched in the closet, unable to speak openly or acknowledge their own families in public. I wrote a short story a few years back about a lesbian soldier whose partner endured the indignities of military send-offs and welcome home ceremonies that never allowed for the emotional connections or public displays of affection afforded to their straight counterparts. One didn’t risk a kiss or tender touch, let alone expect to be treated with the same dignity as other military spouses upon your wife or husband’s death. That was just the way it was.

Then history shifted. DADT was repealed in 2011, but standing federal law still prevented recognition of LGBT patriots’ families. Just before DOMA fell in 2013, I received a letter from an Army National Guard Sergeant, who had read my first novel about a lesbian serving in the military. AJ had already completed a tour of duty in Iraq, and was preparing for yet another deployment to Afghanistan with her unit. We struck up an email correspondence in the ensuing months, comparing notes on the military’s progress and the progress still needed. She shared her fears that her family wouldn’t be taken care of should something happen to her, because marriage still hadn’t been possible prior to her deployment. It angered and saddened me to hear her story, knowing there were so many others like AJ, serving our country in the midst of a war zone, yet still unable to quite find that elusive security for their families.  

 DOMA was struck down while AJ was deployed. Soon afterward, policies were revised that would protect military families. More states repealed their laws to either allow same-sex marriage or to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. This month, Virginia became the latest state to recognize other state’s marriages. Virginia. That just happens to be AJ’s home state. Her Guard Unit hails from the Commonwealth of Virginia and they were leaving Afghanistan any day. The symbolism was something I couldn’t ignore. Sometimes fate is pretty cool. But expressions of love are profound.

1960320_581351918619000_935343532_nOn Saturday, The 1710th Transportation Company arrived home in Virginia to the cheers of their loved ones. Facebook was flooded with joyous and loving pictures of many reunions, with one that stuck out like a beacon in the night. In the crowd stood a woman proudly holding up a large hand-made sign that said: “My wife is MY American Hero.” She stood there among the other wives and husbands without fear or reservation of any kind because this was her right, to stand there beaming with pride, awaiting her soldier. Her wife. The image and its significance brought tears to my eyes. Catie’s one simple act of love and devotion. A brilliant testament to a human victory finally won.

The march of equality moves on. Welcome home to all our American Heroes.


Thanks for reading. Peace~ LM


24 thoughts on “American Heroes

  1. LM, you’ve heard my snippets about my Navy service and the witch hunts during that time. How happy i am for our next gen of sailors and soldiers to serve openly and be welcomed home lovingly. Truly, walking by loved ones greeting their families ,knowing that my loved one would meet me elsewhere, was difficult to not just stand and shout “no more”. I love every story, every photo of all our members returning home, finally out loud. Go Navy, Army Strong!!

  2. Having lived through pre-DADT and pre-DOMA this picture is beautiful to see. It was the goal of all us to be able to one day show our pride in our service member to the world. We the families were always watching always fearful and always proud. I thank all our servicemen and women and their families.

  3. I served 20 years in the Air Force and did the double life thing. The only thing that made it any easier and it still wasn’t was the fact that I didn’t come out to anyone or even honest with myself trying to change the way I was because I grew up in a small farm community and back when I was young being gay was being sick. I still have never came out to my family and even was in a heterosexual marriage trying to change myself. Only thing good that came out of that was I have a beautiful daughter who I was able to raise on my own after my divorce since she was 8 years old. I am happy now that I am honest with myself and most everyone else. And it is really gratifying to see the way slowly but surely acceptance is becoming more real.

  4. Thanks for this great article. My wife was in the Marines before DADT, and I’ve enjoyed hearing her stories over the years (they weren’t all bad times). I’m also soooooo very happy that times have changed and that we are making steps toward equality for the men and women who serve our country.

    • Hi Karelia,
      You’re right, I have many happy memories from my military days. But I remember the times when I had to stand on the fringes of welcome home celebrations, in stark contrast to everyone around me. AJ and Catie’s photos were such a wonderful and uplifting difference that I had to compare the two experiences. Thank your wife for her service.

  5. LM, this is great news indeed, congratulations to all serving gay and lesbian service members and also to all ex-serving members who have fought long and hard for this moment, may their celebrations be yours. Having served in the Australian Army I didnt feel the effects of DOMA and DADT in America but my service was effected with friends thrown out in the mid 80’s to 90’s. While we dont have any marriage between same sex couples accepted in Australia we do have some transgender individuals serving in our military. May all allied service people return home safely from all operations.

    • It’s actually pretty incredible when I think about it. The picture of AJ’s wife holding the sign, standing in the crowd with the other families was just so poignant to me that I had to write about it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Anita.

  6. As another Pre-DADT service member, I could never imagine coming home to my wife in the way AJ was able to experience. I’m thrilled for her and her wife – and so many others – who are able to live more openly.

    I look forward to a day when we’re all afforded the legal rights – and social acceptance – that we deserve, as Americans and as humans.

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