Only retirement frees soldier to patticipate in gay pride festival

DURHAM, N.C. _ During the 24 years that Sgt. Tammy Graham served in the U.S. Army, she went into combat as part of Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, and served in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq before retiring this month.

Graham never mentioned to her fellow soldiers or superior officers that she was a lesbian.

"It was a witch hunt when I first joined in 1986," Graham, 46, of Ocean Isle, N.C., said Saturday while enjoying North Carolina's 26th Annual Pride Parade and Festival. "But now the public mind has opened up and as long as you do your job, people don't care. I refueled helicopters in the Army. People didn't care who you were sleeping with as long as you filled their birds."

Only retirement freed Graham to participate publicly in the Durham event this year.

The annual parade and festival occurred against a backdrop of both setbacks and progress for people who advocate for gay rights. Last week, an effort failed in Congress to repeal the U.S. military's don't ask-don't tell policy, while a Florida appeals court ruled that the state's ban on gays adopting children is unconstitutional. And many states continue to grapple with gay marriage.

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