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SLDN National Dinner 2009: Stronger Military, Stronger America Liveblog

PLEASE, if you can afford to, donate to SLDN to ensure that SLDN will no longer have to hold these dinners.  So they can disband as an organization.

Good evening, Blenders, I apologize for the lateness in getting this up.  I've had a few technical difficulties tonight but nothing major.  It's approxiamately 8:09 and everything is impeccably on time.  Aubrey Sarvis is up speaking right now saying that “Repeal is in our reach.”

I have plenty of pictures already which will be up soon.  Stay tuned for more. 

8:14 Mr. Sarvis: “Tonight we stand with you, Mr. Obama to get the job done”

We will see the day when this waste of talent ends. The country wants it, you want it, I want it. Now it’s up to Congress to take some courage from the American people and just do it.

Before Mr. Sarvis spoke Sgt. Brian Fricke and Sen. Inouye gave the presentation of the Table of Honor representing all of the fallen men and women who could not be here this evening. 

9:08: Dinner is almost over.

9:16: Pat Kutteles:

Good evening. Wally and I are so proud to be here with you again and to salute your work to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  

This July will mark the tenth anniversary of our son Barry’s murder at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  Since his death, thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members have been discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” And countless service members have been harassed, threatened and intimidated simply because of who they are or who they are perceived to be.  

When we established the Barry Winchell Courage Award with SLDN, Wally and I were hopeful that it would encourage people to stand up, speak out and take some real action to end this deplorable law. We stand here tonight – on the cusp of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” We will win this fight — and that victory will be in great part due to the hard work of SLDN and all of you who are here tonight. But most of all – we will win this fight because of the true leaders like the one we will honor this evening with the 2009 Barry Winchell Courage Award.  Barry would have been so proud to serve with Major Margaret Witt.

Every day lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members report for duty. They do their jobs.  They do them well.  And they risk their lives to protect our freedom even when they are denied some of those same freedoms here at home.  They risk losing their careers because of who they are, but put patriotism above those fears.  That is courage.

More below the fold.

 9:23: Major Margaret Witt was just presented the Barry Winchell award for courage.

Thank you, Grethe, Pat and Wally, for this tremendous honor. Your courage shows that change is possible when people stand up for what is right. You give hope to the service members who are forced to serve in silence every day under “Don't Ask, Don't Tell.” It is my privilege to join you this evening and to accept the Barry Winchell Courage Award.


            I would like to express my gratitude to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network for this honor. I also 

want to thank my attorneys, Jim Lobsenz and Sarah Dunne, and the American Civil Liberties Union of 

Washington, for helping me to navigate through the legal process. Many of the Cook v. Gates plaintiffs are

here tonight. Thank you for the courage you have shown over the last five years through your legal challenge to 

this discriminatory law, and continue to exemplify to each of us, in your fight for justice.


When I was growing up – playing doctor or nurse had a little different twist to it.  Not THAT twist.  It usually involved playing war by dressing up in old military uniforms, blasting out “charge” on an old Army bugle and bandaging up friends in a vacant lot down the street. I was lucky to grow up with the images of heroes like Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, and today-Grethe Cammermeyer.  They were the nurses who dared go where no one else would go and who persevered against all odds.  They had that something extra –I wanted to be like them.  I joined the Air Force twenty-two years ago this month.  I wanted to “be all I could be” and have “not just a job, but an adventure”.  Five years ago I was ready to take my ultimate challenge as a nurse—to go to war.  The people that I had spent over half my life training with left without me.  


My hero, Colonel Cammermeyer, informed me, my mission had changed – and here I am—in a very different battle speaking out for those who could not and cannot.


I’d like to tell you a little of what I miss about the military.  I miss my friends — my military family — both active duty and reserves.

I have literally received calls from all over the world asking —“what can I do?” Two years after I literally disappeared I got a call from a dear friend, a SMSgt in my unit.  We had deployed together many times –and to this day I consider him my big brother.  He was planning his retirement ceremony and wanted me to be one of his invited guests.  He knew I would be there for him even if it meant stepping back into my squadron.  When the day came – I wasn't even sure I would be allowed on base let alone through the doors of my unit.  Once through the gate I cried all the way to the parking lot.  I think it took me ten minutes to even open my car door.  Once I did I was spotted immediately, hugged and taken inside.  I was greeted with more hugs, tears and dozens of flowers.  During my friend’s ceremony he called me up to the front of the room.  It was his big day and in his usual selfless character he started to talk about me and my career.  When he finished the entire squadron gave me a standing ovation.  I was overwhelmed.  He had given me the retirement ceremony that had been taken from me. That's the kind of people I served with.  That's what I miss—and that is how I affected unit cohesion and morale.


After 18 years of dedicated, decorated service, my commanders discovered that I am a lesbian. The Air Force told me my career was over. But I stood up to the ban and challenged my discharge. Although a lower court dismissed my challenge in 2006, I refused to quit. After two years of court battles, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals finally reinstated my challenge. 


Now I will have my day in court. The Ninth Circuit's ruling is breaking new ground. For the first time ever, the government must demonstrate that a person's sexual orientation disrupts unit cohesion before it can discharge them under “Don't Ask, Don't Tell.” 


The military is my life. My colleagues are my family. As a flight nurse, no one asked me what my sexual orientation was; they were just glad to see me. This award is not about one story, but about the shared experiences of all our brave LGBT patriots who are denied the chance to contribute their skills and talents to a military that is under great strain right now. 


“Don't Ask, Don't Tell” is not only an affront to justice under the law – it is a barrier to attracting and retaining the best and the brightest. This toxic law is choking our military of the lifeblood it needs to remain the strongest in the world, at a time when our forces are already stretched far too thin. Our national security can no longer wait. The time for its repeal is long overdue. The time for repeal is now.  


I stand before you with renewed hope that change is coming. We are breaking the silence and turning the tide of history, one patriot at a time. The dark days of “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” are numbered because of your resolve to make change a reality. Together, our voices join as one to speak out, with courage as our inspiration and freedom as our guide. And day by day, we break down this terrible barrier that has denied far too many Americans the opportunity to serve the country they love. Stand with me today. We will prevail in this struggle – and our military will be stronger for it.



 9:34 Congressmen Jared Polis is speaking.

9:56 Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett is giving the Keynote address.

Thank you, Admiral Wilgenbusch.   My wife, Celia, and I are very happy to be here tonight for our second SLDN dinner, sitting with CAPT Joan Darrah and Lynne Kennedy, one of the most fun tables, though maybe not as rowdy as Table ___.    We need to check what is in Table ___’s pitchers.  And I am especially pleased to serve as your keynote speaker, and I will tell you why I am so pleased in just a moment.  

A keynote is an allusion to the musical note which sets the harmonic center, the key, to a musical composition.  Our music tonight is in the key of S, SLDN major, and the title of the score is a Stronger Military, Stronger America.  We are all on the same page of music, we are all in harmony, and the sound of that music is going to blow away “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”!

I would like to start with a story, a piece of history.  The story starts with a young Catholic man who loved his country so passionately that he enlisted in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, served 3 tours in Vietnam, won a Bronze Star and was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds he received in Da Nang.  If you walk through the Congressional Cemetery in D.C. you will find the end of this story. Or is it the end?  The tombstone reads: 


Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich was probably the most famous gay man in the country in the 1970’s. His face was on the cover of Time Magazine, and NBC made a movie of his story.   He declared his orientation in 1975, long before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, and despite his exemplary service, combat tours and medals, he was discharged six months later with a general discharge.  But the bravery which had served him so well in Vietnam served him in a fight with the Air Force for his civil rights, a fight which resulted in dignity, an honorable discharge and a ray of hope for gay service members.  So the tombstone was not the end of the story.  Sergeant Matlovich’s fight still continues.

So with that story from history, let me ask you a historical question: When did the American Revolution end?  It hasn't ended. It is still going on.  The American Revolution continued with the Emancipation Proclamation and with the 13th Amendment ending slavery.  It continued with Susan B. Anthony and the fight for the right for women to vote.  

The American Revolution continued with Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The case of Brown vs. Board of Education was decided the year I was born, but racial integration did not come to my Mississippi high school until I was a sophomore and the years in between were certainly part of the Revolution.  My wife was a second grader in Oxford, MS when James Meredith became the first African American to enroll at Ole Miss.  You can’t convince her that it wasn’t part of the Revolution—she still remembers the helicopters flying low and the 101st Airborne checkpoints on the streets of that small town.

And the American Revolution continued in the fight of Sergeant Matlovich.  And it continued in the fight of Sergeant Darren Manzella, and CDR Zoe Dunning, and in the fight of so many of you here, including the fight of Major Margaret Witt. 

And that is why I am so pleased to give this keynote address. I want to serve my country in this continuing American Revolution.  I am proud to stand before you because I am proud to stand with you, the new patriots of the American Revolution, a revolution that exists wherever freedom and dignity are expanded with equanimity and justice

This is a crucial time to have true patriots.  Our men and women in uniform are in harms’ way every day and night, not just in our two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but around the world.  They serve side by side with the openly gay members of the militaries of EVERY NATO nation, every one of the 26 NATO nations.  

And we have many threats on the horizon.  We need a strong military. It is my contention that America grows stronger when we are true to the American Revolution of expanding individual rights.  And if we expand rights to gay and lesbian service members, we will make our military stronger too.  

I’ll tell you why.  Over the past 15 years, we have injured our military readiness by discharging nearly 13,000 skilled, experienced volunteers, and we have spent hundreds of millions doing it.  We have thrown out people who had critical skills: pilots, translators, medics, and technical sergeants.  And 4,000 other service members per year decide to leave on their own or don’t even consider joining the armed forces, not wanting to serve in such an environment.   You want a stronger America, a stronger military?  Well, we can’t afford  “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the damage it does.

The damage goes deep and it gets personal.  A young woman named Sheena from Michigan called into the radio program “Talk of the Nation” where I was a guest last summer. Her story was sad but not unfamiliar.  Her girlfriend of some years was terribly wounded in Iraq and sent to the Army hospital in Texas.  The other patients had their families gathered around them, part of the medically recognized regimen for healing. Boosting morale boosts healing and speeds recovery.  But not Sheena’s soldier partner.  Sheena could not serve as her partner’s non-medical attendant.  Sheena had to stay secret, and her girlfriend did not get the same standard of care.  The military has known for a long time how important family love and care is to getting warriors ready to go, sustaining them while they are there, and getting them back together when they come home.  But “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” denies that aspect of military readiness to gay and lesbian members.  I would tell you that anyone who thinks that we need to keep “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and says that he supports our troops, well, in essence he is saying “I support our troops, but not all of them.  I care for our troops, but not all of them.  Or they just don’t understand.

For a stronger military and a stronger America, we must turn Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell into Open Minds, Open Service.  We must turn Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell into Do Serve, Due Respect. And when we have extended this freedom, this American freedom, this freedom that so many of our allies have, when we extend this to all of the members of our Armed Forces, we will have a Stronger Military and a Stronger America. May that day come soon!

Thank you.

  Well Everyone, after a quick battle between services some more donations were raised and the evening came to a close.  Thank you for tuning in to the Blend, I'll have more pictures up tomorrow, once I get them off this technological dohickey.

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