Gil and I have been honored to talk with several gay and lesbian soldiers about their dedication to our country's ideals of freedom and justice, even in the face of a government that denies them that same freedom and justice. While McCain leads his troops in filibustering, our LGBT soldiers and veterans face the reality of careers and pensions lost, character assassination, and disillusionment with our country's facade of inviolable rights. Here are three stories of life in and out of the military, across generations, before and during Don't Ask, Don't Tell. They are not stories of victimization but ones of self dignity and inevitable triumph. Our government will repeal this law, and as Gil likes to quote King, "Segregation is dead. It's just a matter of how long some want to make the funeral." Rev. Tommie Watkins of Birmingham, AL, kicked out of the Naval Academy in Annapolis for trumped up charges of harassment and consequently told to pay his school bill of $90,000 because he had "left" the academy. Tommie fought back and won a lawsuit that ruled that he did not have to pay, but in the process lost his career as minister in the AME church.
Annie Tavary, of Helena, MT, Gulf War veteran not allowed to reenlist because a doctor had written on her medical records that Annie was lesbian, talks about why she wants to serve, the cost of the denial for her to reenlist, yet her grounding in self-worth and greater ideals.
Libertee Belle, Birmingham, AL, drag performer talks of her time in the Navy prior to the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, while witch hunts were still prevalent.
We met up with Libertee just as she was preparing to perform at the Central Alabama Pridefest. She had one set of eyelashes on, one off; laughing at her lopsidedness, she agreed to be interviewed. We waited until after the show and in the intense humid heat, until she could get out of her dress and heels. As we walked to the interview spot on some kind of old giant mow-down machine, young people greeted Libertee Belle, asked for autographs, and smiled and waved. She said that drag had changed, saying that now all the young queens wanted to be perfectly coifed and lip sync in dramatic silence, while she decided that she would be an "old" queen in bad drag and sing off-key. People would come back to hear her just to see if her voice had gotten any better. She won me over by her humor and incisive intelligence.
Gil's words on this week's action of the Senate:
Langston Hughes, the African American poet writes of what happens when the dreams of freedom and justice and equality for black persons are deferred. What happens to the spirits, psyches and spiritual well being of gay persons (and those who oppose justice for them) when the dream of equality is deferred? The action of the Senate on DADT prompted this:
"What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore -- and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over -- like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?"
What happens to a person and a people and a nation when justice is deferred? I contend that today's anger, bitterness and hatred in the body politic and within the church, despite the positive changes in racial and gender justice, we have changed without changing. And therefore, we are living with unresolved issues that plague us at so many points in our "Life Together". (Bonhoeffer)
READERS: Share your answer in comment section. What happens when justice is deferred?