The South Sound has a long history of military leadership. Our region is also home to many courageous service members who have challenged "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the federal military policy that requires gays and lesbians to hide and lie about their sexual orientation.
Perry Watkins, Grethe Cammermeyer and other champions in our area dedicated long military careers to the country without the return of basic dignity, respect and appreciation.
Watkins (1948-1996) was gay, African-American, and a service member stationed at Fort Lewis. Watkins was drafted and from all accounts was "out" from the beginning of his service period. However, Watkins was eventually discharged because he was gay after the military established more stringent policies in the early 1980s.
Prior to the end of his military career, lawsuits and subsequent rulings allowed Watkins to re-enlist three times, with the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately supporting Watkins. Watkins was one of the first service members to successfully challenge federal policies prohibiting gays and lesbians from serving openly.
Not long after Watkins' battle, Col. Cammermeyer was discharged from the military in 1992 after she disclosed to superiors that she is a lesbian. At the time, she had just been promoted to chief nurse of the Washington State National Guard. Like Watkins, she took legal action. She eventually prevailed with her lawsuit and won full military retirement privileges. Col. Cammermeyer's story is featured in the 1994 film "Serving in Silence," with Glenn Close as the lead.
Don't Ask, Don't Tell leaves service members, veterans and their families to navigate a confusing set of state and federal laws. Gay and lesbian service members cannot register as domestic partners, and widows cannot receive death benefits as married couples can. These are just some of the obvious effects of DADT, but I suspect that the everyday challenges are actually more difficult. Service members have to constantly monitor their speech, change pronouns when discussing significant others, hide their family and live with the threat of being found out.
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