Em-URGE-ing Voices

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Creating Change: Miles to March

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January 29, 2013

Miles to March, the last session I attended, is one of two military-related sessions that appeared in the program for Saturday. Miles to March was facilitated by a local representative of American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER), formerly known as Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Veterans of American. The room wasn’t even close to full – I counted 9 people – which made the entire session more personal and intimate. The facilitator, Danny, had us all introduce ourselves and explain our interest in the military. Among said 9 people were LGB veterans, almost half of them work at their local US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Because the majority of the VA employees in that room were discharged less than honorably, the willingness and desire to help their brothers and sisters in the military was quite moving. Their discharge stories all had a common thread – before their discharge, they all had superiors and peers in their unit fighting to keep them, knowing they were LGB.

Danny kicked off the session by talking about historical changes in the military. We discussed how the military was kind of a model for racial integration and how that relates to the LGBT struggle. In his time in the Army, Danny was out as a gay man. He shared a story from two decades ago about an exchange he had with two of his superiors – a Hispanic man and an African American man. The Hispanic man said to him, “My grandfather had to get his ass kicked for me to serve our country. [The African American man]’s father had to get his ass kicked for his son to serve our country. And now you have to get your ass kicked for your people to be able to serve.” In 2013, Danny has seen his work and the work of others pay off – Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been repealed indefinitely.

As of now, there are no policies in place that prevent lesbians, gays and bisexuals from serving in the armed forces. According to a VA employee and veteran from Virginia, there are mandates in place from directives that require compliance with new inclusive policies consistent with the HRC. Even internally, changes are happening. However, transgender individuals remain barred from the United States military. Although the VA cannot provide gender corrective surgery, the VA will aid trans folks with pre- and post-op medical services (e.g., hormone therapy, counseling services, ect.). This shows that there is progress being made, but there is much activism happening around trans inclusivity in the military.


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