"I just don't feel right calling you 'Margie,'" this writer to Maj. Margaret Witt said before taking the stage with her at Seattle's Museum of Flight to discuss her memoir, TELL: Love, Defiance, and the Military Trial at the Tipping Point for Gay Rights. She replied, "You can call me by my full name thenonce."
And just like that, Margie and I became fast friends.
Town Hall Seattle's Community Programs Curator, Kristin Leong, said, "It was an honor to host this Town Hall Seattle event with Major Witt at the Museum of Flight. She is such a hero and yet she's so warm and humble, so human. Although there were a hundred people in the audience that night, she really made us all feel like we were there as her friends. This was so clear during the audience Q&A. The way that Major Witt listened and responded to the personal stories of service, struggle, and resilience that audience members shared was such a powerful example of empathy and connection."
As we addressed the nearly sold-out audience sitting in the theatre on September 26, it became immediately clear that Margie had a lifetime of friendship in that distinguished crowd. Childhood friends, military comrades, veterans who never met her ( but eagerly approached her after the talk to say thank you ), family members, and most of allthe love of her life, wife Laurie.
A love story
Her book is indeed a love story first and foremosta love of country, of family, friendship, and, perhaps most importantly, a love for oneself. Its message dares to demand respect for one's journey through a myriad of internal struggle in the face of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Ultimately, she winsand so does everyone else who's ever had to spend a day marching in silence under the discriminatory law.
Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer R.N., PhD USAR ret., offered hindsight into Margie's battle against the discriminatory practices plaguing the armed forces for generations. Cammermeyer wrote the foreword to the book, which is fitting since her own high profile anti-discrimination case against the military is widely known as well. Her autobiography, "Serving in Silence," was first published in 1995 and recounts her 31-plus years serving her countryand the unconstitutional discharge that occurred following her admission that she was a lesbian.
"Throughout the years, thousands of others have walked in her shoes, bravely serving in the military while hiding their sexual orientation: many served full careers in silence while many others were dishonorably discharged because of their homosexuality," Cammermeyer shared. "However, few had the impact her case has had on changing the military to open service. In effect, Major Witt successfully challenged 240 years of policy and law that prohibited or limited homosexuals serving in the military."
Investigative reporter Tim Connor provided a unifying voice throughout the narrative, something Margie insisted upon. Her hope was to make the book relatable and not a bunch of legalese. What transpired was a story about one woman's dedication to her country that spanned more than 20 years and inspired millions ( in and out of uniform ) to live their lives with dignity, integrity and grit.
Congressman Barney Frank, Congressman Henry Waxman and Congressman Dennis Kucinich were among the 69 members of Congress who issued a statement regarding Margie's proven track record in the military. They called her "[one] of the most accomplished and lauded members of our military...a talented defender of peace who has suffered at the hand of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy...[and whose] worth to the military and the American people was outweighed by her sexual orientation."
With devastation and loss occurring daily in America by way of mass shootings, white supremacist rallies, health care "reform" debate ( or lack thereof ), and human rights issues on a daily basis, Margie has issued a new rally cry.
"This fight isn't over. Don't let this administration roll back years of sacrifice and hard work," she cautioned. "Don't be distracted by the noise. Keep your eye on the ball and your head in the game. We must continue to speak up for those without a voice. Stay in the fight. Take care of each other."
A decorated veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Margie is currently a rehabilitation supervisor for the Portland VA Health Care System in Portland, Oregon.
Margie's book is available for purchase via her website, as well as Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Powell's, and University Press of New England.