For the seventh year running, the City of Chicago has held a ceremony named With Liberty and Justice for all, with a mayoral proclamation recognizing the service of GLBT veterans. It is the only such municipal recognition ceremony in the country.
The proclamation ( see below ) was read by Dana Starks of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations ceremony in Daley Plaza on Aug. 5.
The keynote speaker was Luke Visconti, a veteran, CEO of Diversity Inc, and a member of the U.S. Navy Diversity Senior Advisory Group.
"We haven't done a good job in how we treat our shipmates and wingmen and combat buddies who are LGBT," he said. "We haven't treated them very well and so I'm eager to do a good job here today.
"We veterans have sworn to support and defend the constitution, we've put our lives on the line. We know the bond of service..."
He set forth his view of what defending the constitution means now.
"Keeping liberty is disruptive. Ending slavery was disruptive, as was winning the vote for women, desegragating the military, integrating women into the military. Liberty is fragile and needs care.
"I think it is time for veterans to come to the forefront to defend liberty. I don't mean just LGBT veterans but, I hate to tell you, it always is the oppressed ones who have to carry the water for the trest of us. Oppressed people have to bring society forward, it is the way it has always been. Emancipation of slaves didn't happen without a fight, women's sufferage didn't happen without a fight. People didn't get the civil rights act and voting rights without a fight and this isn't happening without a fight.
"The part of the constitution we have to bring forward is the part that protects us against a state religion but it also protects religion from the state. That means that we can have openly serving members of the military and we can have gay marriage and your church never has to marry two gay men. That's what this country is about.
"I think that it is time for the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy to end. The country has moved to that point but I'm afraid that it is the LGBT veterans who are going to have to help us all get to that point.
"We deserve to have a country that allows people to serve as they are. We veterans have to be the ones to say that parsing liberties is the first step toward having a gulag, having concentration camps.
"Tell your representative. If we can get this ball rolling, we can end Don't Ask, Don't Tell this year, have the military follow the orders set forth by Congress, the president will sign it and we'll have this piece of bad history of the US behind us forever.
Jim Darby, president of the Chicago Chapter of the American Veterans for Equal Rights ( gay veterans ) thanked the crowd, veterans and officials present for participating in a ceremony that started with a simple wreath laying seven years ago.
"Many GLBT veterans have been kicked out," said Darby. "Many have been told 'We don't love you.' We are here to say we love you. Maybe uncle Sam doesn't appreciate them, but we will."
Congressman Mike Quigley of the 5th district of IL, the featured speaker, said that in his hundred days in office he has sponsored a dozen bills that work for equality for the GLBT community, including the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. He said that in a visit with military troops, he didn't see men, women, gay, lesbian, and transgender, but simply a group of brave Americans.
"It is easy to see that we are fundamentally less safe with the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy," he said. "And we are fundamentally less just with the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy." He recalled President Lincoln calling on us to ask ourselves if we meant it when we wrote into our constitution that all are created equal. "Every once in a while we have to really ask ourselves if we really mean it, even if a group is unpopular in some people's minds," said Quigley.
"The Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy is a policy so fundamentally hypocritical, that it encourages people to put their lives on the line to serve a country built on freedom and democracy, but only as long as they lie about who they are."
He then read a statement which he has recently entered into the U.S. Congressional Record, recognizing Chicago AVER for its work on behalf of veterans and those still serving and recognizing Jim Darby, founder of the chapter.
"I promise I will never stop fighting and standing up on your behalf. I am your friend, but you are my hero. Thank you to all AVER members," said Quigley.
A color guard made up of veterans and members of AVER then accompanied a wreath with a pink triangle for placement by the eternal flame maintained in Daley Plaza.
Also speaking at the ceremony were Samuel Miller, chair of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations'Advisory Council; Bill Greaves, Director, Chicago Commission on Human Relations' Advisory Council on LGBT Issues; Steve Lorandos, former Petty Officer Second Class, U.S. Navy and LeeAnn Bradley, a former Navy officer. Alderman Tom Tunney and State Representatives Greg Harris and Deb Mell also participated.
Photos by Mel Ferrand and Tracy Baim
Office of the Mayor
City of Chicago
Richard M. Daley, Mayor
WHEREAS, throughout the history of the United States, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans have, side by side with their heterosexual counterparts, defended the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the constitution through their service in the United States Armed Forces; and
WHEREAS, in 1969, the Stonewall Rebellion sparked the modern resurgence of political activity to gain lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights; and
WHEREAS, in 1990, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender veterans formed a mutually beneficial organization now called American Veterans for Equal Rights ( AVER ) for the purpose of recognizing and appreciating their military service; and '
WHEREAS, the Chicago Chapter of AVER has devoted many years to supporting and assisting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender veterans in the Chicago area; and
WHEREAS, the members of the Chicago Chapter of aVER have unselfishly given their time, money and expertise to improve the lives of all veterans:
NOW, THEREFORE, I, RICHARD M. DALEY, MAYOR OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, do hereby proclaim August 5, 2009, to be LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL AND TRANSGENDER VETERANS OF AMERICA DAY and encourage all Chicagoans to recognize these veterans for their dedication to our country and for their contributions to the beterment of Chicago.
Dated this 5th day of August, 2009.
Richard M. Daley, Mayor