(Editor’s note: During his State of the Union address in January, President Obama said: “Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.” Supporters of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell are now not so sure that will happen if Sec. Gates leaves next month before certifying that the troops have been sufficiently trained. Additionally, the GOP-lead House inserted poison pill amendments in the National Defense Authorization Act that Rep. Barney Frank and others are demanding be taken out or Obama must veto the bill. Meanwhile, discharges continue under the still-active policy. On Sunday, during the LGBT Pride Parade in West Hollywood, three former Marines – Captain Tom Carpenter, Sergeant John Powers Hely and Corporal Mervil Greene – marched openly and proudly as representatives of the Community Grand Marshal, the thousands of other LGBT patriots who once and still serve in silence – Karen Ocamb)
Servicemembers Serving as LA LGBT Pride Community Grand Marshalls
By former Marine Captain Tom Carpenter
Sunday’s Christopher Street West Parade through the streets of West Hollywood will be memorable for one reason to us: it will be the last Pride Parade where members of our community who serve our country in a US Military uniform will have to remain silent.
While almost 6 months have passed since President Obama signed the repeal of the un-American law known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”(DADT) and slammed his hand on his desk saying, “This is done!” – the law still remains in effect and discharges continue. The President promised the military would not drag its feet and would move out smartly to complete the training the military leadership believed was necessary to prepare the force for implementation of this new personnel policy. Over half of the 2 million members of the nation’s largest employer have been trained.
We three are former Marines – a Captain, Sergeant and Corporal. We were dismayed when our last Commandant, General James Conway, publically objected to the repeal of DADT. How was he living out our motto of Semper Fideles (Always Faithful) when his Commander and Chief had made it clear his administration would do away with this law? We were even more upset when his replacement, the present Commandant, selected by President Obama, General James Amos, testified during his confirmation hearing that he, too, was opposed to repeal. In spite of this unfortunate public opposition to the proposed change in the law, as Marines we knew that once the orders were given that all Marines would respond with a sharp salute and an “Aye, aye, Sir!”
And yes, the Corps has led the way. The Commandant, at the last House Armed Services Committee hearing under the new Republican controlled House of Representatives, provided the strongest testimony regarding the progress being made in training. The Marines completed their training last month with the Navy close behind. We still are waiting for the Air Force and the Army.
The three of us were honored by Christopher Street West to act as stand-ins for all our patriotic brothers and sisters serving silently in the US Armed Forces as the LA LGBT Parade Community Grand Marshal. The tradition of the riderless horse is believed to date back to the time of Genghis Kahn when a horse was sacrificed to serve the fallen warrior in the next world. The organizers thought that this tradition would capture the absence of the service members who could not participate in this celebration because of DADT.
But we decided that our mission was to maintain decorum and merely carry images of the missing service members behind the empty car that was to symbolize the riderless horse. We were pleased to be able to carry the fine work of photographer Jeff Sheng and the Kaycee Olsen Gallery.
Before we stepped off, we talked about why the military leadership and the President had not yet certified to the Congress that implementation of repeal was ready to move forward to the 60 day waiting period. There was nothing in the law that required this training and clearly no requirement that all the troops be trained before certification could occur. We were very concerned that Secretary Gates would retire at the end of this month and that this task would be handed off to the new Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta. This new team would likely cause more delay.
As former Marines we knew how this training would have occurred when we were on active duty. It would have taken two minutes. The Company Commander would have had the Company form up and he would say something like this:
“We have always had gay Marines in our Corps. The law has changed and now they will no longer be discharged because of their sexual orientation. Standards of conduct remain the same. We do three things well- we take care of our fellow Marines, we do nothing to dishonor our Corps and we fight to protect our country and its freedoms. Nothing will change under this new law. Now fall out and engage the enemy. Semper Fi!”
We wondered what the crowd reaction would be to an empty car and three Marines walking behind it carrying images of LGBT active duty troops. It was amazing, emotional and a once in a lifetime experience. We knew we were representing tens of thousands of LGBT Servicemembers around the world. The crowd was estimated in the hundreds of thousands. Some folks who read the banner carried by two volunteers that said ”Community Grand Marshal” and the signs on the side of the car which indicated this was a riderless horse, looked puzzled. They just didn’t seen to get it. Some thought the photos we carried were of fallen LGBT veterans. Others clapped respectfully and nodded their heads up and down. A muscular young man with a tattoo of the 82nd Airborne Division patch on his shoulder ran out to take a photo of us and whispered “I’m still in, so thanks for doing this for us.” A middle-aged woman who was wearing a “NAVY” baseball cap gave us a big thumb’s up. One of us caught the eye of a man who looked like he was a Viet Nam War vet in an “ARMY” tea shirt wipe a tear from his eye. There were shouts from the crowd of “Thank you for your service,” “Finally”, “Its about time,” and “Tell the President to get off his ass!”
As Marines, we know that victory only comes through courage, determination and perseverance. We are committed to keep fighting until repeal is implemented. This is no time to take off our packs. When we prevail, we will finally be able to recognize the members of our community who have sacrificed so much for our country. Next year, let them march with us openly in our Pride Parade.