LGBT vet group still working for equality post-Don’t Ask Don’t Tell
May 1, 2012 | 11:00 am
(Updated: February 22, 2013 | 6:49 pm)
The end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell wasn’t the end of the fight for equality in the military, says Air Force vet John Kelly, president of an LGBT activist organization’s newly-formed Colorado branch.
“A lot of people think that once Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed, everything was fixed, and it’s not. There are still issues that need to be addressed,” Kelly said.
The American Veterans for Equal Rights, a national nonprofit working for LGBT equality in the military, is opening a Rocky Mountain Chapter to continue efforts to serve lesbian and gay servicemembers, veterans and their partners.
Transgender individuals are still banned from service, and the military still does not recognize same-sex marriages – which means that health, housing and death benefits are not afforded to same-sex partners.
Moreover, many servicemembers discharged under DADT are opting to return to service – and some face bureaucratic hurdles upgrading their discharge status so they can re-enlist.
“Those things still have to be corrected,” said Kelly, “and AVER is an organization that’s looking to help advocate for those changes.”
“Gay people have always served in the military,” Sarah Adler, the secretary of AVER’s Rocky Mountain Chapter, said. “We are a face that need to be public now.”
The Color Guard was the first LGBT organization allowed to march in Colorado’s Veteran’s Day parade last year. The organization’s vice president, Luiza Fritz, served in the Iowa National Guard for 13 years before being discharged in 2008 under DADT and is currently trying to re-enlist.
“Being a victim of DADT, I can give some advice on how to upgrade your discharge if you’re looking to re-enlist,” Fritz said.
Fritz hopes the Color Guard will play a pivotal role in the process of educating the public about AVER’s mission. “I believe the mission of the Color Guard is to promote to the heterosexual community and to the veteran community at-large that we are a professional organization,” Fritz said. “We’d like to erase some of the stereotypes that some people still have in their minds of openly gay service members or gay veterans.”
“Yes, we are gay,” Fritz said, “but we are military first and foremost, and that’s what we want people to understand.”
In the meantime, the Color Guard is active in the LGBT community – planning to march in Denver’s May 26 Memorial Day Parade and in Pride parades in Denver and Colorado Springs. They’ll also present colors at the 2012 Denver Gay Bowl and at the Denver Mayor’s Diversity Awards.
Adler left the Army on her own accord to avoid discharge under DADT.
“It was really frustrating to know that I served my country willingly, paranoid about whether or not that was going to be taken away from me,” Adler said.
Alder, who lives with her wife in Colorado Springs, felt a calling to participate in the Color Guard.
“Wearing the uniform has always meant something profound to me,” Adler said.
For more info on AVER and the LGBT Color Guard, contact John Kelly at email@example.com.