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 DADT was repealed in 2011, but standing federal law still prevented recognition of LGBT patriots’ families.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 More states repealed their laws to either allow same-sex marriage or to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.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.

Indeed.

Thanks for reading. Peace~ LM

 

Honoring service and friendship

Memorial Day. The official beginning of summer, a long weekend, a time for picnics and barbeques and spending time with family. But, every reward has its price. Our comfortable way of life is paid for by the service and sacrifice of those who serve our country unselfishly, and the blood shed by those who have fallen.

This Memorial Day weekend I am taking time to reflect on those who came before me, those with whom I’ve served, and those serving today. Like many, I have personal connections to military service. My stepfather served in the Viet Nam era, and my sister and I chose Army service as young adults. Our family proudly supports my young nephew, who needed his parent’s blessing to enlist in the marines shy of his 18th birthday. He is currently serving in Afghanistan.

My service inspired me to write more than a few poems and stories; one of them became a full-length novel, dedicated to LGBT service members. By far, the greatest reward of my writing has been the connections I’ve made with readers and other authors, especially so many fellow veterans worldwide. Some I’ve had the honor to meet in person, and many others are my online buddies. In every case, that “something” which bonds those who serve has shown itself, drawing kindred spirits to one another naturally.

One of those early online connections developed into a real life friendship. My friend, Sue, has served many years in the British Army, and recently was commissioned as a Lieutenant. She is enroute to her second tour of duty in Afghanistan as we speak. Most recently, I made the acquaintance of a US Army sergeant, who honored me with a note about my military story. Similarly, AJ, is now serving her second Mideast tour. I am grateful and infinitely humbled by their friendship.

On this Memorial Day, I pause to remember every patriot who has selflessly given his or her life in service of our country. I pray for the safety of those serving now. I hope that my words will in some way convey the level of respect I feel for every one of you who wear a uniform in service of our nation. You are our inspiration and hope. I salute you.

~LM

Why is this so hard to believe?

Many of us were saddened by the news of the passing of CW2 Charlie Morgan. It’s a tragic end to a story about a woman who lived a life of service in the shadows, during the years when DADT was the policy of the US military. Like so many other lesbian and gay service members, Charlie served her country at a huge personal cost. After the repeal of DADT, while many others still feared repercussions with DOMA still on the books, Charlie had the courage to tell her story.

Charlie served proudly in the New Hampshire National Guard for seventeen years. More than ten years ago, she and her wife, Karen, entered into a civil union in Vermont, and last year wed in their home state. They have a daughter who is eligible for healthcare and survivor benefits, but her wife is not. Charlie simply wanted to take care of her family, just like any other responsible spouse.

Charlie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. She underwent a double mastectomy and chemotherapy. When she was said to be cancer-free, she was deployed to Kuwait for a year’s tour. But last September, she was told the cancer had returned and was in her lymph nodes. The cancer was now incurable. So, like any other dedicated spouse, Charlie felt a renewed urgency to fight for a change in the law because that was the only way to secure the benefits that her family deserved. The benefits she earned during her years of service to this country.

And Charlie knew first hand how much those benefits meant. Her father had been killed in an accident while on active duty when she was three, and his survivor benefits were her mother’s source of support. But with DOMA still on the books, her wife would not receive those same benefits. So, Charlie wrote to the Speaker of the House, John Boehner. Her requests for a meeting were ignored at first. Finally, when a news organization got involved, a meeting was granted, but after she made the trip to DC, the Speaker sent an aide to meet with Charlie. She told her story, told him her time was short, and that her family needed their help. The aide listened and then told her the Speaker would continue to defend DOMA.

When Charlie’s wife, Karen, was asked about what a repeal of DOMA and full recognition as a military dependent would mean, it is said that she stated it would be great to be able to go to the commissary to shop for her family. The simplicity of a request to perform such a normal task is heartbreaking in its significance.

Charlie’s letter to the Speaker said, “Mr. Speaker, as a member of the Active Guard, I laid my life on the line for my country, and now I need my country to protect and care for my family. My wife and daughter face an uncertain future, unable to receive the same family support services as our counterparts who render the same service, take the same risks, and make the same sacrifices.” For those who serve in our military and sacrifice so much for our freedoms, that doesn’t seem like such a huge request.

Charlie Morgan lost her battle with cancer on Sunday. Charlie, like every other lesbian or gay service member—or indeed, every lesbian and gay citizen—wanted exactly what you want, America. The chance to live freely and receive the same benefits for hard work as any other citizen in this country.

That’s all we want. Why is this so hard to believe?

Peace~LM