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Ending 'don't ask' is goal of AVER
The policy is treason, Kameny tells convention
Cleveland--“One cannot fly an airplane looking backward,” said American Veterans for Equal Rights outgoing president A.J. Rogue, in his final speech to the organization before handing the office to James Donovan.
“I wish I could say that this is the year that discriminatory law [don’t ask, don’t tell] goes away, but I can’t say that.”
Rogue was forced out of the Navy in 1985 under a complete ban, then in effect, that gave a dishonorable discharge to anyone found to be gay or lesbian. He expects the current law to be around at least until the next president’s term, which begins in 2009.
AVER held its semiannual national convention in Cleveland from April 18 to 23. The gathering drew more than 50 veterans, their partners and allies. In all, there were more than 60 participants, said the group’s secretary and conference organizer, Marie Ann Bohusch.
AVER--which members pronounce uhVER like the word meaning to affirm as true--is a veterans group dedicated to equal rights for LGBT servicemembers. According to Bohusch, an Army veteran, most of the 300 members were drafted into the service during World War II, the Korean conflict and the Vietnam war, though the group is also attracting more recent veterans, plus those discharged under the law they seek to change.
There are 23 chapters. Two, Northeastern Ohio (neoaver) and Buckeye Region (braver), are in Ohio. Bohusch is from Cleveland. Rogue is in the Columbiana County community of East Palestine.
The convention’s main purpose was to elect new executive officers. They are president James Donovan of Plainville, Illinois, a Navy veteran; vice president Ray Allen of Sacramento, California, a Marine veteran; and treasurer Mark LaFontaine of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, a Coast Guard veteran.
Bohusch remained the organization’s secretary. Rogue became the immediate past president.
The convention also had educational sessions looking at veterans’ issues, including LGBT military history, strategy to lobby Congress for repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell,” what the Veterans Administration is doing for veterans with HIV and AIDS, and the effect the current policy has on families of servicemembers.
Bohusch said the convention learned that there are 22,786 AIDS patients being treated by the VA, and that it is a priority of the VA to be on the leading edge of AIDS treatment.
Cleveland council member Joe Santiago, a ten-year Navy veteran, told the convention about his time as the personal chef to the captain of the USS Leyte Gulf, a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser.
Santiago is the city’s first openly gay elected official and a former board member of the Cleveland LGBT Center.
He told the audience that he had no direct discrimination in the Navy, but he was always careful. He and the other gay sailors knew who on the ship would give them trouble, and looked out for one another.
Santiago also talked about AVER groups tapping into the resources of LGBT community centers.
Bohusch noted that three of the group’s members were interviewed for the Veterans History Project, a video documentary created by the Library of Congress.
A moment of silence was observed for AVER members who have died since the last convention, including braver founder Todd Shinkle of Columbus.
The pinnacle of the convention, however, was the keynote address given by Dr. Frank Kameny, a World War II combat veteran.
Kameny, 82, was fired from a Civil Service position for being gay in 1957, ending his career as an astronomer in the Army Map Service. He went on to become one of the earliest LGBT equal rights pioneers.
“I have taken the strong position,” said Kameny, “that by denying military service by people with a lot to offer, [government officials] are giving aid and comfort to the enemies of our country.”
“Giving aid and comfort to the enemy is the constitutional definition of ‘treason’,” he added.
“Anyone who supports ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ starting with traitor [former U.S. Senator] Sam Nunn, should be indicted, prosecuted, convicted and hanged,” Kameny said to applause. “And I will gladly pay for the hangman’s noose out of my own pocket.”
Nunn, a Georgia Democrat, chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1993. He resisted attempts by the newly elected president Bill Clinton to end the ban on gay military service outright by holding hearings designed to foment fear of gays. Witnesses described soldiers’ bathroom and shower conditions, and there was a media tour of a submarine’s sleeping quarters.
Nunn is widely credited with creating the anti-gay climate and political maneuvering that led to the ‘don’t ask don’t tell policy.’
Kameny told the convention that ending the ban on openly gay military service is his last unfulfilled mission.
His other goals have been realized, including the ending of “sodomy” laws criminalizing gay sex and getting the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality as a mental illness, which he helped do in 1973.