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November 11, 2010

Out & Equal Honors Veterans
Out & Equal honors all those who serve and have served valiantly in our military.
We appreciate your courage and your commitment to protecting our basic freedoYellow Ribbonms.  We hope that the injustice experienced by thousands of honorable lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members who have been discriminated against under Don't Ask, Don't Tell will soon end.  And, we extend our hope for peace and justice throughout the world.

Today, Out & Equal is proud to share two stories from veterans within the LGBT community from our new "Communities in Common" series. Read the story from Out & Equal's Associate Director of Training and Professional Development, Pat Baillie and the story from Lieutenant Colonel Steve Loomis.

In honor of Veterans Day, please contact your Senators and ask them to support the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.

BailliePat Baillie | November 11, 2010

Pat Baillie joined Out & Equal after a distinguished military career and is dedicated to providing diversity education to employers and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees as Associate Director of Training & Professional Development. Baillie reflected upon her service and the impact of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" for Veteran's Day.

When I first enlisted in the military I planned on serving for 4 years before becoming a college professor, but my love of service resulted in a 15 year military career. I served during the Gulf War in a combat position and was highly decorated with an excellent military record. Today, people thank me as a veteran for my service and I want those grateful Americans to know how important it is to support the right for LGBT military personnel to come out.

When I began my military career, I knew that the military did not accept gays and lesbians. When asked if I were a lesbian, I honestly answered "no" because I identified as bisexual. However, it wasn't long before it made no difference if I were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender - I was not supposed to be in the military.

For a time, I was lucky. I had mentors who taught me how to continue serving in spite of my sexual orientation. In turn, I regularly helped others avoid discharge or investigation.

I was investigated at least 3 times during my military career. In my first assignment, I played on a women's softball team that was called in for investigation on several occasions. Because I was an officer, I was never charged. I was investigated again while serving in Alaska. It is very challenging to conceal one's personal life while living on a hill with the same 40 people for a year. Fortunately, that investigation was dropped when I left Alaska.

Following my service in Alaska, I served another 10 years in assignments requiring high security clearances. During this time, the military commenced a third investigation into my sexual orientation.. Throughout an investigation that spanned three years, I refused to answer questions specifically aimed at my sexual orientation, rather than lie. The investigation eventually ended in my favor, but at the cost of a key assignment that was needed to be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. Without this job, and the promotion, I was at high risk of being kicked out of the military without any retirement benefits.

It was at this point in my career that I placed my hope in President Clinton and the possibility that he would end discharges of LGBT military members. That did not happen, and on the day that President Clinton announced Don't Ask, Don't Tell I decided to retire. After 15 years, I had been too active about military equality and was too far out to continue serving.

I then swore to never go back in the closet and became a government contractor for 11 years. I spent most those years feeling like the only out person in my workplace. I found ways to advocate for my rights and created opportunities to educate others about the inequalities that LGBT employees face every day.

Today I am proud to work as the Associate Director of Training at Out & Equal where I have the chance to change the kind of workplaces like those where I had worked. I hear versions of my story repeated with each person's unique narrative about being forced into the closet at work. I am able to tell those stories to organizations who are working to change this "climate of silence" with the hope of creating equal workplace for all. My war stories are not exclusive to combat but also include the suffering that I faced after not receiving government support for my family because I belonged to the LGBT community.

LoomisSteve Loomis | November 11, 2010

According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a "non-partisan, non-profit, legal services, watchdog and policy organization dedicated to ending discrimination against and harassment of military personnel affected by" Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), "More than 13,500 service members have been fired under the law since 1994." Decorated servicemembers are among those who have been or are in the process of being discharged. One of those is Lieutenant Colonel Steve Loomis who was discharged under DADT from the Army after receiving two Bronze Stars (one for heroism), a Purple Heart, and four "Meritorious Service Medals." Lieutenant Colonel Loomis is now retired in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is the President of the Bataan Chapter of American Veterans for Equal Rights and is a graduate of the University of New Mexico with a Bachelor's in Journalism. Loomis reflects upon his military service and Don't Ask, Don't Tell for Veteran's Day.

Loomis When I enlisted in the Army in 1967 I did not yet understand that I was gay. As I came to understand and acknowledge my orientation, I realized it had no bearing on my ability to do my job, but that the Army felt very differently. I realized that my private life could not combine with my professional life.

I graduated from Infantry Officer Candidate School and served in the Central Highlands of Vietnam at a time when it was unpopular to serve in our military. I earned two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart, an Air Medal and the Combat Infantry Badge.

Back in the States in 1970, I could have returned to civilian life but chose to remain serving in command and staff positions in the Army Reserves and then returned to active duty. It was at this point in my career that I realized that I was gay. Numerous friends and associates, my group commander and even a general officer either knew or thought I might be gay. Yet, while my sexual orientation never prevented me from fulfilling my duties, my military career did prevent me from entering a long term relationship, something I always regretted.

After being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, I served as Chief of Military Education for the entire Army Reserves where I developed a school reservation system that saved millions of dollars. Then as a Division Inspector General, I developed and conducted one of the first unit surveys to clearly show that there was in fact a great deal of tolerance toward gays in the military but that women were adversely affected by the prohibition of gays and lesbians in the military. Nevertheless, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) was passed as a compromise between President Clinton and Congress in 1993.

Soon after DADT was enacted, I was selected for a promotion to Colonel. On the night I was awarded a fourth Meritorious Service Medal, I came home to find my house on fire from arson. After saving my Labrador, Brig, I quickly realized that my home had been set on fire by a former partner who later said that he acted from fear of what the Army might do under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" if they found out that he was gay. It shook me with equal parts of anger and fear and I knew without hesitation that I would fight the Army's effort to discharge me, no matter how difficult or isolating it might become.

The Army fabricated claims and discharged me in 1997-just five days before I was eligible for full 20 year retirement.

Although the Army later acknowledged that my investigation included "force, coercion or intimidation" without factual grounds, the Army refused to reinstate my retirement eligibility. It was, and remains, a tactic often used by the military in cases against gays and lesbians. Following this outrage I made the difficult decision to open my private life to the media and appeared on CBS' 60 Minutes.

We filed our case in the U.S. Federal Court of Claims and were the first to argue the unconstitutionality of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" following the Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court decision. Our judge was conservative but we felt that if he adhered to the law we would win our case. After hearing the arguments, he ordered the Army to retire me with full back pay. It was a tremendous relief, but the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy remained in effect, and thousands of other Americans still serve under its draconian and debilitating shadow. Nine years after my discharge, I was able to move on and fight Don't Ask, Don't Tell from outside the Army.

My experience reinforced my understanding that we must judge every soldier, straight or gay, not by what they do consensually in private, but by how well they do their job and if they succeed in their mission. When equal rights to serve are extended to all members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, they will continue to be able to serve faithfully as they always have, but without the fear of jeopardizing their career as a result of who they are. The military will be better for it.