It seems appropriate on this first post-DADT Memorial Day to extend thanks to our military servicemembers, gay and straight alike, for doing what too few politicians or pastors are willing to do: The hard work of defending our freedom in the trenches, the jungles, the deserts, and anyplace else foreign threats may lurk.
We might often fear that the summery days of our easy liberty are dwindling. There’s an air of fear and division in this nation that’s become quite toxic and threatens to grow worse, rather than better, every year.
But we Americans would not have the luxury of working out their differences amongst ourselves if we were not safe and secure. We have enemies; they want to do us harm. It’s the men and women in the ranks of our Armed Forces who keep us safe. As long as these guardians of our freedom act to keep us safe and secure, we should only ever be grateful to them.
I once heard a military veteran stand up before a committee of state legislators and say that he had been on the ground on D-Day in World War II. He seemed to think that no gays had fought in his unit; he seemed to think no gays had been fighting right alongside him to protect the free world, as if gays were somehow an invention of the modern world or some sort of social trend he disagreed with. He also seemed to think that gays deserved fewer liberties and civil rights than heterosexuals.
One might disagree with the man’s attitude and beliefs, both on moral grounds (being gay is not bad, wrong, or pathological; some people still seem to think that way, despite all credible evidence to the contrary) and out of a sense of plain everyday reality. Gays are in uniform, as they are in every other profession and every other niche in society. Our homophobic veteran certainly served alongside gays in uniform in WWII whether he knew it or not; gay military men and women have been part of every battle of this nation’s every war since before America even was a country of its own. The Revolutionary War had gay fighters. World War II was won in part through the courage and sacrifice of gay soldiers. The first American casualty in our latest war in Iraq was a gay man named Eric Alva, a man who lost a leg but who stood tall and spoke up passionately for the rights of all GLBT Americans who wear the uniform and put their lives on the line for a nation that continues to demonize and punish them.
But though the outmoded military mindset might cling to prejudices that do not hold up to reality, soldiers like that anti-gay veteran from the greatest war the world has ever seen still deserve our respect and our gratitude because they still fought, right alongside their gay brothers in arms, to defend the rights and freedoms of all Americans--and in so doing they made possible the long, arduous process of gaining democratic, equitable civil rights and freedoms for all Americans. That process could not have happened under the boot heel of the Nazis, nor within the suffocating confines of a communist government.
Freedom and democracy in the modern world, along with the idea that individuals create society as a whole rather than being properly subsumed to society, and the sense that each man has a right to control his own destiny rather than simply being the subject of a King with delusions of divine appointment, originated with our nation. It’s an idea that has spread across the globe, and even if democracy is not universal... indeed, one might very legitimately fear for the survival of the democratic process right here at home... the love of freedom that democracy has sparked and validated is infectious and persistent.
At the front lines stand our soldiers: men and women, gay and straight, in a veritable human rainbow of complexions.
Hard-line anti-gay extremists like to paint liberals as unpatriotic. That’s either a lie or a delusion, but it’s certainly not the truth. If I am a liberal it’s only because conservatives have allowed themselves to be hijacked by a stripe of thinking that denies freedom to some while taking liberties... no, make that license... with the freedoms of others. I take pride in the fact that however much money the have-it-alls pour into their efforts to weaken and control the masses, this great nation is still shaped, driven, and defended by its people rather than its elites.
Those inside and outside of our nation who work to divide and conquer us have made far too much headway, but at some point--sooner, I suspect, rather than later--they will discover that they are tampering not with sheep, but with men. The American spirit resists tyranny and asserts the dignity and the equality of all. In two centuries of vibrant, sometime violent, discourse, rhetoric and lies have always fallen before the simple truth that we love freedom, for others as well as for ourselves. Many of us may forget that come ballot initiative time, but when the drums of war sound it’s something we remember once again. It’s in our DNA. It’s who we are.
The very best of who we are wear the uniforms of the Armed Services. For the first time, in 2012, we celebrate a Memorial Day in which gay and lesbian patriots no longer need to compromise their personal integrity in order to do their part to defend their nation’s sovereignty and security. For the first time, gay and lesbian citizens truly have the freedom to be counted among those heroes--honestly counted.
If that doesn’t give you a feeling of pride in this nation, then what possibly could?