Today is Memorial Day, and most everyone is enjoying their long weekend with family and friends. I do that too, but I also reflect on what Memorial Day really means. Memorial Day is about the ultimate sacrifice our men and women have paid so we can live free and enjoy holiday weekends like these. Memorial Day is a day to pay respect to all those who have ever lost their lives in battle, and for those who like me, also lost body parts while fighting for the freedom this country enjoys. I also hope we remember and honor the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender service members who have long been in our ranks since this country’s independence in 1776; LGBT military members haves worn the uniform through every battle we've fought.
Today, I will especially reflect on every single LGBT service member no longer with us. One in particular is Charles Stevens of Decatur, Ga. Charles was a gay veteran of the United States Navy who served in World War II and the Korean conflict. Charles was a longtime member of the Georgia Chapter of American Veterans for Equal Rights, as well as a gay activist. Charles passed away a couple of weeks ago, but I was so fortunate and blessed to have met him last year. Another veteran who will always be dear to my heart, even though I never met him, is Leonard Matlovich. Leonard, like me, is a Purple Heart recipient. Appearing on the cover of Time in 1975, Leonard was the first to put a face and name to LGBT people serving in our military. There are thousands and thousands more LGBT service members like Charles and Leonard that we must never forget.
It has been five years since President Obama repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but the military remains exclusionary. While we made huge strides in allowing LGB individuals to serve openly, we didn’t, as we say in the military, “accomplish the mission.” Our nation still does not allow our transgender brothers and sisters to wear the uniform and serve our country. Since my coming out in 2007, I've met many transgender people who served in the military but had to hide their gender identity. As a nation, we will never know just how many of our brothers and sisters died while still living and feeling the oppression of the closet; the fact that this is still happening is unconscionable. As I often say in most of my public speeches, we still have work to do. Aside from fixing the ban on out transgender military personnel, we still need to make sure the National LGBT Veterans Memorial gets completed so we can best remember those in our community who worked so hard to preserve our way of life.
But for today, let’s simply give some thoughts or prayers to our fallen men and women, and especially those who fought for freedom but never got to experience it truly for themselves.
ERIC ALVA is a retired staff sergeant in the U.S. Marines and the first American soldier wounded in the Iraq War, losing his right leg in 2003. He was later awarded the Purple Heart by President George W. Bush. As an LGBT civil rights activist, Alva was instrumental in the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”