Veterans Day and our LGBT Heroes
A day that asks us to look back and thank those who experienced some of the worst that humanity has to offer. Veterans Day, celebrated November 11th, coincides with other international days of military remembrance, as to unite the world behind the idea of how devastating war can be.
LGBT Armed Service members have a unique role in the US military, and a heart breaking history that, until last year, remained a secret. Donna Riedel, a SGT E5, severed like her father before her. She worked as a Photographer and Info specialist from 1966-168, and then served in the Army National Guard from 1981-1998. To her, Veterans day is a chance to remember those she served with. “It means freedom and a true meaning of what we have sacrificed for it.”
Her message to those outside of the armed services is to support those who are coming home at a time when they need us the most. “We will have more than 26,000 military personnel getting out of the service within the next year, and they will need jobs. If you work for a company and they are NOT hiring veterans now, push for a move to have them at least look at the returning vets and say thank you by giving them a place to call home again.”
Riedel served in a time when DADT loomed over every queer service member. She said there were a lot of witch hunts, but the new direction the military has taken on the issue is a good one. She said, “I still talk to young adults and tell them that the military will give them a great life if it is for them.”
In a post DADT world, groups have sprung up to support the newly outed folks still serving. The Military Partners and Families Coalition, launched on Memorial day in May of 2011, hopes to do just that – provide support to those who in both the gay and military communities. The group hopes to support those who need it most – those burdened with institutional discrimination.
From the MPFC website:
“… We saw the gaping void between our silent military reality and our ability to provide support to one another. A small group of active duty silent military partners started exchanging ideas between Skype and a kitchen table and formed MPFC in 2011 to begin filling that void…”
Meg Rapelye is a member of MPFC. The former Coast Guardsmen lives with her partner of 6 years and their 2-year-old daughter. In speaking with Rapelye, she said the community building and support provided by groups like the MPFC is key to healthy LGBT families. According to Rapelye, LGBT military partners and families suffer a “separate but UNequal” fate even after the repeal of DADT.
“Some are daily hardships such as lack of access to dependent identification cards for same-sex partners which affect access to military facilities and important resources within. Other difficulties take the form of severe financial burdens when same-sex spouses are not covered under their service member’s healthcare. LGBT service members are not eligible for additional housing allowance to account for their same-sex partners as dependents.”
But Rapelye said the outreach from MPFC has already started to make impacts. They had a booth at this year’s Richmond Pride event where they gained many connections with folks in the RVA area working with similar issues of mixing duty and family. They held their first meet up on Veterans day at New York Deli in Carytown. Rapelye said about 11 military members gathered at the event and shared stories of joy and heartbreak – but they all shared the common burden of a system that did not recognize their love.
One of the service members who learned about MPFC at Richmond Pride spoke at the Veterans Day Brunch – “I always thought I was so alone in the world being a woman married to a woman in the Army and all of the struggles that came with it. The idea that there are others out there like me was so heartwarming.”
Editorial note: With the whirlwind schedule I (Brad Kutner) faced last week, some important work fell through the cracks – including coverage of Veterans Day 2012 within the LGBT community. I’d Like to thank SGT DOnna Riedel and Meg Rapeley for getting back to me so quickly on this important issue.
“It’s a good time, but there’s also moments of being very sincere and very dramatic”February 21, 2017
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