Post-repeal is a time of firsts for most gay and lesbian servicemembers who survived Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: First time coming out to someone on base, first time putting up family pictures at your desk, first time bringing your spouse or partner on base, first time attending an official event as a couple… and so on. Although the excitement and nervous anticipation of what might happen diminishes over time, it still hasn’t totally gone away yet – even a year after repeal.
Clay’s coming out has been a happy and supportive event; yet so much attention was given to the naysayers prior to repeal that I keep waiting for the other shoe to fall.
Today Clay proudly marched in our town parade with the local VFW. In our rural county, towns of of 500-800 people are spread 8-10 miles apart. Each one has a traditional summer festival with a parade – usually with a name that celebrates a local crop or a particular historical peculiarity. Ours used to be a strawberry festival, but now features restored classic cars. To locals, these parades are a big deal. Local businesses and organizations slap together floats, the rodeo queen and mounted sheriff’s posse trot by (yes, we really do have a sheriff’s posse…), and candy is flung from wailing emergency vehicles to amped-up youngsters all along the route. We have tricked-out logging trucks, local candidates pressing the flesh, cheerleaders and 4-H.
But the VFW, following their police escort, always leads the parade. This is the first time, that we know of, that an out gay man has marched in uniform in our local parade. Clay was most certainly not trying to make a political statement. His reasons, then? In his words, “To honor those who have gone before, for a sense of belonging, and because I’ve earned the right.”
Oh there were shocked faces, but not like you would think… Most came from acquaintances and neighbors that had never seen Clay in his uniform. Maybe some of them didn’t even know he is still in the National Guard. But they all waved or came up and shook his hand.
And in the end, it was no big deal – he was simply a servicemember like the others marching beside him. In the park before and after the parade older people approached him and told their stories. Clay listened patiently, not really knowing what to say. “They just needed someone to hear them”, he said. They told their stories of sons and daughters, fathers and grandfathers who had served – truly amazing stories full of pride and pain, told with teary eyes. I saw today that a man or woman in uniform acts like a touchstone to many; bringing out the things that move them deeply. And in this way, my love, you taught me a little bit about what it means to ‘honor those who have gone before’.