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Happy Memorial Day Weekend
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 05/26/12
Last updated on: 05/27/13
 
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Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt, a gay soldier who died in Afghanistan in 2011.

As we celebrate Memorial Day weekend, we need to remember the sacrifices made by those who have served in our military, including glbtq servicemembers, both those who served in silence and those who are now able to serve openly. We need especially to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

It is gratifying to know that following the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, gay and lesbian servicemembers are able to enjoy the kind of freedom that their straight colleagues take for granted.

As Matthew Hay Brown reported in the Baltimore Sun, eight months after the repeal of DADT, both gay and straight midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy describe a significant transformation.

Midshipman Nick Bonsall, who attended the Ring Dance, a formal ball held each spring for third-year midshipmen, with his boyfriend and classmate Andrew Atwill, said "It's been really great, actually. Everyone has been really accepting of us."

Last month, for the first time, faculty members and staff attended an off-campus dinner that had been organized secretly for the last five years by and for gay midshipmen. The dinner this year was different because of the level of comfort attendees enjoyed. In addition, senior officers attended, as well as a much larger number of students.

Gay cadets at the U.S. Military Academy and the Coast Guard Academy are also forming clubs. Gay alumni at the Air Force Academy hosted their first football tailgate last fall, and gay alumni of the Air Force Academy and West Point held their annual dinners on campus for the first time.

The new level of comfort felt by gay and lesbian servicemembers on active duty is also apparent in the numerous photographs and videos of same-sex partners greeting each other with kisses and hugs upon returning from deployment.

As we celebrate this new openness, we must not forget those who suffered under the old policies--including the 14,000 servicemembers discharged under DADT--and those who fought so tenaciously to change them.

More specifically, we need to remember heroes like Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, Sgt. Perry Watkins, Sgt. Miriam Ben-Shalom, and Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, who were pioneers in fighting against discrimination in the military.

Heroes in the fight to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell also need to be honored. These include Aubrey Sarvis of the Service Members Legal Defense Network, Alexander Nicholson of Servicemembers United, and Nathaniel Frank and Aaron Belkin of the Palm Center, as well as Lt. Dan Choi, Capt. Jim Pietrangelo, Capt. Tanya Domi, Cpl. Evelyn Thomas, Maj. Michael Almy, Lt. Robert Chaurasiya, Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, Sgt. Justin Elzie, and Spc. Jarrod Chlapowski, and Pty. Off. Autumn Sandeen, among many, many others.

Those who have given their lives defending our country especially should be remembered this weekend.

One of them is Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt of Rosemont, Minnesota, who was killed in Afghanistan in February 27, 2011.

The openly gay Wilfahrt joined the Army in 2009, when DADT was still in effect. The news surprised his parents. They wondered why Andrew would enter the military, where he'd be forced to deny a part of who he is and where he would be in danger. Nevertheless, the parents supported his decision, just as they had supported him when he came out at age 16.

When they learned that their son had been killed, Jeff Wilfahrt, Andrew's father, at first feared that he might have been fragged because he was gay. "I want to talk directly to somebody in his platoon!" Jeff told the officer and chaplain who delivered the tragic news.

What he discovered was that Andrew was accepted and valued by his colleagues. He was so well-liked his comrades named a combat outpost for him. COP Wilfahrt sits 6 kilometers from Kandahar. To his buddies, it is not named for a gay soldier, but for one who fought with valor.

"Mom, everyone knows. Nobody cares," he told his mother in their final conversation.

Since Andrew Wilfahrt's death, his parents have embraced the cause of gay rights. As Jeff Wilfahrt has said, "If my son was good enough to fight and die for the constitution, the least I can do is continue the fight here."

For more about Andrew Wilfahrt, see Wayne Drash's CNN report and associated videos, which may be found here.

In the video below, Cpl. Wifahrt's parents speak movingly of their son.

Cpl. Wilfahrt figured in the decision by Republican state Representative John Kriesel who bolted from his party to vote against the bill that would amend the Minnesota constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Representative Kriesel, himself a combat veteran, explained his vote in a speech on the House floor, which is quoted in the video below from Minnesotans United for all Families.

 
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