First Federal Monument Honoring LGBT Veterans Dedicated on Memorial Day
May 26, 2015 10:49 AM   Subscribe

The first federally approved monument honoring LGBT veterans in a national cemetery was unveiled and dedicated in a grove at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois on Memorial Day.
posted by MrJM (47 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
For those who are curious, the text on the memorial is:

"With liberty and justice for all."

followed by

"Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have served honorably and admirably in America’s armed forces. In their memory and appreciation of their selfless service and sacrifice this monument was dedicated by Chicago Chapter American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER)"
posted by saeculorum at 11:10 AM on May 26, 2015 [15 favorites]


This is awesomesauce.
posted by Kitteh at 11:45 AM on May 26, 2015




I'm continually surprised at how far we've come in my adult lifetime.
posted by desjardins at 11:47 AM on May 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm continually surprised at how far we've come in my adult lifetime.

No kidding. It's amazing and wonderful!

That said, the glass-half-empty side of me wonders how long it will take for some cretins to come along and deface the memorial? Hopefully, it being in a national cemetery will dissuade the haters from acting. That would be a Federal offense, right?
posted by Thorzdad at 11:55 AM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


That is wonderful. I have a cousin who is a Major in the Army, and she said that when "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was repealed, all the folks she knows in the Army thought it was a good thing, because her generation (she's a bit younger than me) couldn't see the use in it. "There are tons of gay people in the Army," is what she told me.
posted by xingcat at 11:59 AM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's been years (and they were more passing activist acquaintances in "the struggle" together than people I really "knew") so I don't know if these are the same folks from AVER-Chicago that I knew in the past, but I'm going to assume it is and give them a special shout out here because it wouldn't surprise me if they were the people who could get this done because they were "the real deal" as far as showing up and getting shit done for many gay causes I was involved with. I'm so happy to see this happen.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:20 PM on May 26, 2015


Like in marriage, playing nice with the state will make assimilation read as progress much easier to swallow.
posted by PinkMoose at 12:48 PM on May 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


trans people can't serve honorably if they can't serve openly. consider not including the "T" if this isn't part of your message. if you don't, it makes me feel like I'm popping a child's balloon by dropping this in the middle of a mostly uncritical celebration.

(while "trans" is rarely mentioned on aver's site outside of the umbrella phrase "lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender," it looks like they are trying to be more inclusive which is nice I guess? idk)
posted by as common as insecticide at 1:01 PM on May 26, 2015 [6 favorites]


The military does not honor trans people, but everything that I've read about the memorial, it is meant to be inclusive. It was something that was being attempted long before DADT was repealed.

I'm no fan of the military but that is a complete and different thing from recognizing those that have served and died, especially in a culture where it not just something that is honored (selling people on the propaganda of the military apparatus) but has always been something that people join because they have no other economic worthwhile option (in which the lives of the poor are used to defend the wealthy elite).
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:19 PM on May 26, 2015


trans people can't serve honorably if they can't serve openly. consider not including the "T" if this isn't part of your message. if you don't, it makes me feel like I'm popping a child's balloon by dropping this in the middle of a mostly uncritical celebration.

I think the message is more that LGBT people have always been there, regardless of whether they were able to serve openly, and that doing so even under regulations that all but criminalize their service adds to that honor.
posted by Etrigan at 1:26 PM on May 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


Huzzah to change, however incremental.
posted by tilde at 1:37 PM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is really nice news. Thanks for the link.
posted by jonmc at 2:03 PM on May 26, 2015


How times have changed! Thirty years ago, when I enlisted in the Navy, this was the official policy of the Department of Defense regarding sexual orientation:
Homosexuality is incompatible with military service. The presence in the military environment of persons who engage in homosexual conduct or who, by their statements, demonstrate a propensity to engage in homosexual conduct, seriously impairs the accomplishment of the military mission. The presence of such members adversely affects the ability of the armed forces to maintain discipline, good order, and morale; to foster mutual trust and confidence among service members; to ensure the integrity of the system of rank and command; to facilitate assignment and worldwide deployment of service members who frequently must live and work in close conditions affording minimal privacy; to recruit and retain members of the armed forces; to maintain the public acceptability of military service; and to prevent breaches of security.
For years, no federal official uttered any other words on the subject. I know some of my shipmates must have been gay, but I never learned who. I'm certain that most of them served just as honorably as the majority of everyone else. It's good to see an acknowledgement of their service.

This fall, my son will report for Basic Training at Great Lakes. I hope that when I visit to see him graduate, I'll have an opportunity to visit this monument in Elwood.
posted by ogooglebar at 2:20 PM on May 26, 2015


if this is news because it's federally approved, then it's also hypocritical because it's federally approved. if you can praise the army for making steady progress, i can criticize it for celebrating prematurely. how can you include trans people yet not catch this contradiction?
posted by as common as insecticide at 2:50 PM on May 26, 2015


how can you include trans people yet not catch this contradiction?

To the extent that I understand your objection, you're making the statement that transgender people cannot serve in the military openly and that there is a long way to go for full (or even partial!) transgender acceptance in the military. Both of those statements are factually correct and accurately describe the world as it is.

This memorial makes the statement that transgender service members exist and that "transgender people have served honorably and admirably in America’s armed forces". This is also factually correct and accurately describes the world as it is.

There is no contradiction because the statements here are orthogonal - your objection is about what should happen and the memorial is about what has happened.
posted by saeculorum at 3:05 PM on May 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


for the record, i have complicated, half-formed opinions about the state and the military overlapping with race, gender, sexuality, class. I do think we should take better care of our veterans and am generally happy that they built this memorial and got it approved. i am less sure that it's a part of a steady march toward progress or that it's unambiguously good for trans ppl. i'm frustrated that i feel like i have to declare this before anyone will listen to me... maybe that's just in my head. i'm going to bow out now since i've already posted too much.
posted by as common as insecticide at 3:10 PM on May 26, 2015


the contradiction is that the state recognizes this memorial which says that trans people in the military are honorable, but the state also doesn't let you serve in the military if you're openly trans which implies that it's dishonorable. is this really so confusing? okay sorry, really going away now.
posted by as common as insecticide at 3:13 PM on May 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


If there is any dishonor, I think it's on the side of the state presuming to dictate gender identity to its service members. I don't see that not being able to be openly trans negates the fact that they discharge their military duties honorably.
posted by ogooglebar at 3:49 PM on May 26, 2015


I don't see that not being able to be openly trans negates the fact that they discharge their military duties honorably.

The point is that military policy contends being trans prevents you from discharging your military duties properly or honorably.
posted by hoyland at 4:07 PM on May 26, 2015


I'll leave it to trans veterans to decide how problematic it is, but there's a contradiction of saying "Look, we're honoring you!" while insisting trans people are unfit for service.
posted by hoyland at 4:09 PM on May 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


I would like to hear from just a single person who is willing to say, "I think the world is worse off with this memorial than without this memorial."
posted by saeculorum at 4:13 PM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I agree that there's a contradiction. I'm looking at it from the deckplate level, where my life was literally in the hands of my shipmates, and their lives were in my hands. To me, "honorable service" is mostly a matter of contributing to mission readiness. For a further contradiction, consider the case of Joanna Clark. From the Wikipedia article Transgender in the United States:
Joanna Clark became the first person to successfully re-enlist in the U.S. military following sex-reassignment surgery in 1975. Clark, a former Chief Petty Officer in the United States Navy, was honorably discharged after being diagnosed as a transsexual at Stanford Medical Center in 1973. Following surgery in 1975, and with full disclosure of her status, she was invited to re-enlist in the U.S. Army Reserve. She was sworn in on February 6, 1976, and in the following months served with the 49th Medical Battalion, 63rd ARCOM, and the 306th Psychological Battalion. Her enlistment was voided in August 1977, while undergoing review for promotion to Warrant Officer. She sued and won an honorable discharge and credit for time served.
She had to sue, but the state eventually acknowledged her honorable service.
posted by ogooglebar at 4:27 PM on May 26, 2015


The point is that military policy contends being trans prevents you from discharging your military duties properly or honorably.

No, it doesn't:
Most of OutServe-SLDN’s transgender clients have been discharged honorably, though other than honorable or dishonorable discharges may be possible depending on the case (e.g., violations of conduct regulations).
posted by Etrigan at 4:46 PM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Etrigan, I realise that distinction is meaningful to someone in the military and that the word attached to one's discharge really matters, but I don't think it much matters in terms of how the military treats trans people.
posted by hoyland at 6:32 PM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Other than "it could be worse", I guess.
posted by hoyland at 6:32 PM on May 26, 2015


For that matter, read two paragraphs above the one you quoted:
Discharges for “sexual gender and identity disorders” are classified as administrative rather than medical, despite the inclusion of this category under medical regulation. As a result, transgender service members may be faced with lack of access to VA health facilities. “Sexual gender and identity disorders” do not qualify for disability under Defense Department regulations.
posted by hoyland at 6:35 PM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


[Folks, please try not to make holding a given position a personal failure on the part of your opponents. It makes civil conversation very difficult.]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 7:36 PM on May 26, 2015


Etrigan, I realise that distinction is meaningful to someone in the military and that the word attached to one's discharge really matters, but I don't think it much matters in terms of how the military treats trans people.

So which is it? Does it matter, or does it not matter?

For that matter, read two paragraphs above the one you quoted:
Discharges for “sexual gender and identity disorders” are classified as administrative rather than medical, despite the inclusion of this category under medical regulation. As a result, transgender service members may be faced with lack of access to VA health facilities. “Sexual gender and identity disorders” do not qualify for disability under Defense Department regulations.


Yeah, that is definitely a shitty thing. No one in this thread is remotely trying to excuse the military's policy on trans people. But trans people have served, properly and honorably, and your insisting that they didn't really serve properly and honorably because of the rules is looking less righteous than needlessly fighty.

Or possibly you're actually concerned that the Department of Defense is trying to use this as a smokescreen to keep people from noticing that the policy on trans service members is shitty. Allow me to reassure you that literally no one at DoD (or VA, or anywhere else) is trying to use this monument in this way. No one anywhere has dramatically swiped his hands together to indicate that there is no longer any problem with the LGBTs, especially the Ts.

There is plenty to be done. Don't let that get in the way of celebrating small and literally symbolic victories.
posted by Etrigan at 8:04 PM on May 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


The purpose of this memorial is not to indicate that all issues with the military have been solved. AVER has a stated goal of advocating for opening military service to transgender service members. In fact, it is their #1 stated legislative goal. They even acknowledge the asymmetry of rights that have been won - "[t]hrough much of our organization’s 25 year history our central goal has been to fight for the right of LGBT people to serve in the United States military. While that goal has been largely achieved, the mission will continue until Transgender patriots are able to serve just as lesbian, gay, and bisexual people can now serve."

There is no one in this thread that is saying that transgender service members are appropriately treated. There is no one in this thread that is saying the status quo is acceptable.

What there is in this thread is an appreciation of the recognition that L, G, B, and T service members all exist, have existed, and have served "honorably and admirably". The world has not become a worse place because of this memorial, it has become a better place. The way to acceptance is through many avenues by many advocates. Some of those avenues are legislative (since there are legal barriers to service for both transgender and L/G/B service members) and some of those avenues are in public recognition.

All of those avenues are valuable and I think each should be celebrated, not obliquely criticized.
posted by saeculorum at 8:12 PM on May 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


your insisting that they didn't really serve properly and honorably because of the rules is looking less righteous than needlessly fighty.

That's not at all what I'm saying. I'm saying it's paradoxical for the military on the one hand to say "We want to recognise your honorable service as a trans person" while the very fact the military views someone's service as honorable hinges on the military not having known they were trans. Something of the same paradox exists because of DADT, but less pronounced. (I don't know what pre-DADT discharges were and I don't know if they can be corrected. The wording of DADT discharges was (in theory, but not always) a reflection of service, not of being queer.)

What I actually came into this thread thinking about, before people found it necessary to try very hard to make the world a simple place, was that this is rare in the world of memorials because it's not about queer people as victims. (Though I suppose memorials generally are overwhelmingly either about victims or war memorials. There is a monument specifically dedicated to soldiers surviving the Vietnam War, but I only know this because the sculptor was a family member.)
posted by hoyland at 4:53 AM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't know that I have much of an opinion, really, and, like I said above, it's not really my place to have an opinion. But I do think it's entirely reasonable for one possible opinion to be "it's complicated and not obviously sunshine and roses".
posted by hoyland at 5:02 AM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


My lovely veteran friend Travis was a part of the dedication. I am so proud!!!!
posted by agregoli at 6:43 AM on May 27, 2015


I don't think it's splitting hairs to point out that the title of the FPP is slightly misleading. It's not a Federal monument; it's federally-approved. What "federally-approved" means is not specified in the article. There's nothing about the authority, process or rationale for the approval. It was probably as simple as some bureaucrat who checked the policy guidelines and said, "Hmm. Nothing here explicitly prohibits approval. So...OK."
posted by ogooglebar at 7:21 AM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


the very fact the military views someone's service as honorable hinges on the military not having known they were trans.

No. Seriously, it doesn't. Here's that part that I already quoted and that you already responded to:
Most of OutServe-SLDN’s transgender clients have been discharged honorably, though other than honorable or dishonorable discharges may be possible depending on the case (e.g., violations of conduct regulations).
(emphasis added)
Discharges of trans service members for being trans are administrative, not punitive. No one is going back and revising Kristin Beck's characterization of service because she came out after retirement.

But I do think it's entirely reasonable for one possible opinion to be "it's complicated and not obviously sunshine and roses".

Your stance against some irrational optimism that someone somewhere not in this thread might conceivably be expressing is noted. Thank you.
posted by Etrigan at 7:49 AM on May 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


To understand better why transgender people might have feeling of "it's complicated" about a federally approved monument that nominally includes them, it might be helpful to have a look at this pdf: "Still Serving in Silence: Transgender Service Members and Veterans in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey," published by the LGBTQ Policy Journal at Harvard Kennedy School.

I found it edifying, but was particularly interested in the section "Qualitative Findings From the NTDS," in which , "Respondents to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey were provided with the opportunity to write in a response to the following question, Question 70: Anything else you’d like to tell us about your experiences of acceptance or discrimination as a transgender/gender nonconforming person?”

I can certainly understand feeling glad about something that is a successful effort to celebrate the contribution of LGB(T) veterans, while also feeling a little (or a lot) gut-punched about the current status and experiences of transgender people in/with the military, and that's not the same as saying that the recognition represented by the monument is a bad thing.
posted by taz at 12:16 PM on May 27, 2015


Discharges of trans service members for being trans are administrative, not punitive. No one is going back and revising Kristin Beck's characterization of service because she came out after retirement.

For heaven's sake! Did you not read the bit I quoted about people discharged for being trans being denied benefits? It's from your own link!

Yeah, if you manage to get out without anyone figuring out that you're trans (or at least without the wrong people figuring out that you're trans), you're in the clear (more or less--getting the DoD to change the name or gender marker on your records is nigh on impossible). The VA will even help you transition, in an uneven fashion varying between quite good and utterly disastrous depending on your luck and where you live. That's called luck, not "the military thinks trans people serve honorably".
posted by hoyland at 4:01 PM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


For heaven's sake! Did you not read the bit I quoted about people discharged for being trans being denied benefits? It's from your own link!

Denied benefits that have to do with their trans status as a medical condition. That's not punitive. It's a reflection of DoD and VA's regressive beliefs that trans people are psychologically fucked up.

That's called luck, not "the military thinks trans people serve honorably".

You and I are just never going to agree on what "honorably" (or "properly") means in this context, I guess. To me* it means that your service is characterized as Honorable, which means that a trans soldier separated solely for being trans retains all benefits relating to that service, with the caveat that transition and other gender-related conditions don't relate to that service. GI Bill? Still available. VA benefits for injuries incurred in the field? Still available. Burial in a military cemetery? Still available.

* -- I am a former military personnel officer. I never had to deal directly with the regulations on whether trans people can begin or continue to serve, but I know a lot and have literally years of experience in dealing with characterization of service and what a service member needs to do to retain access to various benefits.
posted by Etrigan at 5:18 PM on May 27, 2015


Denied benefits that have to do with their trans status as a medical condition. That's not punitive. It's a reflection of DoD and VA's regressive beliefs that trans people are psychologically fucked up.

How on earth is being denied medical treatment and being called fucked up not punitive? Are VA benefits not available for other conditions unrelated to your service (e.g., diabetes)? I genuinely don't know.
posted by desjardins at 9:00 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Denied benefits that have to do with their trans status as a medical condition. That's not punitive. It's a reflection of DoD and VA's regressive beliefs that trans people are psychologically fucked up.

How on earth is being denied medical treatment and being called fucked up not punitive?


I use the word "punitive" more precisely than just meaning "bad". If you're put out of the military for "punitive" reasons, you most likely lose access to some level of benefits (e.g., GI Bill, employment preference for federal jobs). It doesn't necessarily mean "bad" -- there are a lot of things that most people would consider "bad" that aren't considered "punitive" (mostly, what's called "failure to adapt", if you're just not good at being in the military).

And as noted above, separation from service solely for being trans is not "punitive" and does not lose the service member any accrued benefits that he or she would normally receive. Trans-related medical treatment is not a benefit that a service member would normally receive.

And of course, they don't literally use the words "fucked up". Transgender status is classified by military regulations as a psychosexual disorder (as it was by pretty much every other medical, psychological, legal, and governmental institution until relatively recently) that renders a person unfit for service. There are a lot of other things that render a person unfit for service -- the next thing under "transsexualism, exhibitionism, transvestitism, voyeurism, and other paraphilias" is acne. Tattoos, allergy to bee stings, braces, a single missing finger (not counting pinkies)... would you consider it "punitive" if people were put out of the military for any of those things?
posted by Etrigan at 9:34 AM on May 28, 2015


Are VA benefits not available for other conditions unrelated to your service (e.g., diabetes)?

The answer is "kind of". The VA sorts its patients into Priority Groups and covers certain treatments based on those groups (and with copays and the like for most non-service-connected issues). The rationale for this is to minimize "dual care" (6-page PDF) -- it helps people to have to deal with fewer doctors.
posted by Etrigan at 9:48 AM on May 28, 2015


[Folks, please bear in mind this is a tough subject for some of our members in this thread and use care in your choice of words. Recognize that "psychologically fucked up" and related categorizations are pretty heavy and hurtful terms to be throwing around when people are already talking about how they're alienated by stuff like that. This thread doesn't have to be an awful fight, if folks can just take some care with each other.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:02 AM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I apologize wholeheartedly. It was inexcusable of me to do that.
posted by Etrigan at 10:42 AM on May 28, 2015


There are a lot of other things that render a person unfit for service -- the next thing under "transsexualism, exhibitionism, transvestitism, voyeurism, and other paraphilias" is acne. Tattoos, allergy to bee stings, braces, a single missing finger (not counting pinkies)... would you consider it "punitive" if people were put out of the military for any of those things?

Most of those things either negatively affect other people (voyeurism, exhibitionism), set the person apart in an unnecessary way (transvestism, which I believe to be a choice), or are a potential liability (e.g. severe allergies, missing fingers). I can see that issues that would be minor in civilian life could be a bigger problem in military life. So, no, I don't feel it to be punitive, just like I don't feel it's a punishment for me to be disqualified from the NBA due to my height.

I don't think I really have to convince you, Etrigan, that trans people should be allowed to serve openly. It seems like we're on the same page there. I understand that the military has specific and narrow definitions of words and concepts and I think we disagree on their usage with respect to the issue at hand (the memorial).
posted by desjardins at 11:06 AM on May 28, 2015


And as noted above, separation from service solely for being trans is not "punitive" and does not lose the service member any accrued benefits that he or she would normally receive. Trans-related medical treatment is not a benefit that a service member would normally receive.

You do understand that getting caught "cross-dressing" can get you an other than honorable discharge and jeopardize you access to benefits, right? (You need a honorable discharge for the GI Bill.) And that this happens to people? And that therefore, trans people are not treated the same as people discharged for medical conditions (even in optimal circumstances, it's not a medical discharge)? In an ideal world, the military would just be wasting people's careers and talent discharging trans people. The policy would be discriminatory and dumb, but wouldn't be punitive in the same way (in the non-technical sense, before you jump on me). Remember how DADT seemed like a clever compromise in 1993 or whenever it was and, lo and behold, people kept getting 'asked'? Same sort of thing.

The VA does provide transition-related care. They're prohibited by law from paying for surgery, but they do do therapy and hormones (with disclaimers about access being uneven). (Congress was likely trying to stop them providing transition-related care, but used some hopelessly bad phrase ('sex change'? 'sex change operation'?), that leaves a nice big grey area.)

"transsexualism, exhibitionism, transvestitism, voyeurism, and other paraphilias"

It's worth noting that one of those things is not a paraphilia.
posted by hoyland at 6:27 PM on May 28, 2015


And as noted above, separation from service solely for being trans is not "punitive" and does not lose the service member any accrued benefits that he or she would normally receive. Trans-related medical treatment is not a benefit that a service member would normally receive.

You do understand that getting caught "cross-dressing" can get you an other than honorable discharge and jeopardize you access to benefits, right? (You need a honorable discharge for the GI Bill.) And that this happens to people?


That would come under the previously cited category of "violation of conduct regulations", yes.

And that therefore, trans people are not treated the same as people discharged for medical conditions (even in optimal circumstances, it's not a medical discharge)?

I was under the impression that transvestites and transgender persons were not necessarily the same thing.

Also, not all discharges for medical conditions are medical discharges. It sounds weird, I know, but this page explains it fairly concisely. In particular, note:
Separation without benefits. Separation without benefits occurs if the unfitting disability existed prior to service, was not permanently aggravated by military service, and the member has less than 8 years of Active Service (active duty days); or the disability was incurred while the member was absent without leave or while engaging in an act of misconduct or willful negligence. If the member has more than 8 years of Active Service, he/she may be medically retired (if eligible) or medically separated with severance pay, even if the condition was pre-existing or hereditary.
So yeah, if you turn out to have an allergy to bee stings and they find out about it after you've graduated from West Point and are literally processing out of the Army because your five years of active duty are up, you can be (and yes, I have seen this exact thing happen) released from the military with no medical benefits for a medical condition.

Remember how DADT seemed like a clever compromise in 1993 or whenever it was and, lo and behold, people kept getting 'asked'? Same sort of thing.

I genuinely don't understand your point here. Discharging trans people who are otherwise good service members is dumb? I agree.

"transsexualism, exhibitionism, transvestitism, voyeurism, and other paraphilias"

It's worth noting that one of those things is not a paraphilia.


It's also worth noting that I put that in quotes because I was quoting it from the regulation, which I've already said is regressive, shitty, and inexcusable in this arena.
posted by Etrigan at 8:35 PM on May 28, 2015


Cross-dressing is not the same thing as being transgender, but if someone were to walk in on a male-assigned person wearing feminine clothes, they wouldn't know if the person was crossdressing or was actually a trans woman.
posted by desjardins at 9:11 PM on May 28, 2015


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