On D-Day, June 6, the City of Chicago held its third tribute to GLBT veterans in Daley Plaza. 'With Liberty & Justice For All: A Salute to LGBT Veterans' was sponsored by the Chicago Commission on Human Relations Advisory Council on Veterans' Affairs, the Advisory Council on LGBT Issues, and the Department of Cultural Affairs.
Bill Greaves of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations' Advisory Council on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues, delivered a mayoral proclamation while Will Schmutz, director of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations Advisory Council on Veterans' Affairs read a letter from U.S. Rep. Jan Shakowsky, D-Chicago.
Ed Zasadil, a gay World War II veteran who is a member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, detailed his experiences in basic training and during the war. He commented that he was fortunate to have witnessed the wave of patriotism the country rode after the war and that he is proud 'to be a member of what [ former TV correspondent ] Tom Brokaw called 'the greatest generation.''
Among those speaking were Jim Darby, president of the American Veterans for Equal Rights Chicago chapter. Others who offered remarks included Roy L. Dolgos, director of the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs, and Windy City Media Group's MSgt. Jean Albright, a 20-year Air Force veteran who is now on the board of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network ( SLDN ) .
The keynote speaker was C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of the SLDN. Before the ceremony, he told Windy City Times that he was honored to take part in the event, adding that 'Chicago is the only city in the country that does anything like this. That actually adds more value because now there are things that are finally happening around the country around 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' such as New York City and West Hollywood city councils passing resolutions against [ it ] . There's a real sense of movement around the country and Chicago has [ taken ] the lead for some time.'
Osburn also said that it was great to be around so many gay and lesbian veterans. According to him, there are 18,000 gay and lesbian veterans in Chicago and 27,000 throughout Illinois. Moreover, according to the Urban Institute, more than 1 million lesbian, gay and bisexual veterans are currently living in the United States.
After Osburn's message, the audience listened to a stirring rendition of 'America the Beautiful' as performed by Travis, who is with American Veterans for Equal Rights ( AVER ) . The memorial concluded with a wreath-laying ceremony that featured Zasadil and Ed Wosylus, secretary of AVER; 'Taps' played in the background. Travis told Windy City Times that he was happy that 'the mayor has seen fit to acknowledge veterans—especially queer veterans. ... It is a statement that you have people who are willing to stand up and be counted.'
Excerpts from the delivery of Keynote Speaker C. Dixon Osburn:
'It is fitting that we gather here today, on the anniversary of D-Day, to call for liberation once again.
Neither liberty nor liberation can ever be born without great sacrifice. Nonetheless, struggles write the history of our people from the American Revolution to World War II to present. We are here to pay witness to the struggle of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans who seek a level playing field and a fair shake.
... We have much to learn from those who have come before us. During World War II, African-American servicemembers fought bravely and selflessly for freedom, even when denied freedom at home. On the battlefield, race did not matter. Ability matters. Heart matters. Yet, when our African-American heroes returned home from the front lines, they returned home to segregated schools, segregated swimming pools and segregated water fountains. The freedom they brought to the world was not a reality here at home.
President Truman changed that. After World War II, he ordered the military to integrate. He did so despite great opposition in the military and in the rest of the United States. Eighty-two percent of Americans at the time opposed integration. But Truman had a vision, and he had courage. The message was simple: When you have fought for our country, 'separate but equal' isn't equal anymore.
And yet, if you are lesbian, gay or bisexual, separation and inequality continues. The first ban on gays in the military started in World War II. At the time, the ban was seen as an act of compassion. Rather than throwing us in jail as criminals, the federal government decided we were just sick and should be discharged.
... The Pentagon has now discharged close to 125,000 lesbian, gay and bisexual servicemembers since World War II. The Pentagon has discharged more than 10,000 servicemembers for being gay since 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' was first implemented a decade ago. The Pentagon's position is that the ban is necessary for good order, discipline and morale. The policy has led to some devastating results.
... PFC Barry Winchell and Seaman Allen Schindler were both killed by fellow servicemembers who believed gays should not serve. Allen's mother, who lives in Chicago Heights, says, 'As a child, I was brought up to believe that we weren't to lie, yet it seems like just because somebody is gay that [ other people ] want them to live a lie, or otherwise they end up dead. That's why Allen ended up being dead, because he was tired of living a lie.'
... The Army, Army Reserve, Army National Guard, and Marine Corps have all missed their recruiting goals by significant percentages. The recruitment of African Americans and women have also declined sharply. The only reason the services have retained sufficient troops is because they will not let them go, through stop loss orders. The all-volunteer military is facing its most serious threat ever. Our country needs us.
... [ Moreover, ] America wants us to serve. According to Gallup, 66-79 percent of Americans now support gays serving openly in the military, up from 52 percent a decade ago. According to Annenburg, a majority of junior enlisted personnel now support gays serving openly in the military. An increasing number of senior military leaders have also called for repeal, like General Wesley Clark, General Claudia Kennedy, General Pat Foote and Admiral John Hutson ... .
Indeed, our armed forces have always been stronger and have always been better prepared when lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans have served. When we serve, America wins. And that is precisely why we must now mobilize and speak out and demand an end to the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' ban on our community.
... If you care about this issue, speak up and speak out often. Never doubt that this battle will be won. Never doubt that your voice is important.'