One year ago, the USNS Harvey Milk launched into San Diego Bay marking the first time a military vessel was named for an openly LGBTQ civil rights leader. For many San Diegans who lived, served, and suffered through pre and post-Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell discrimination or the transgender ban, the moment carried a poignant weight knowing that the person being honored was murdered in 1978, and less than honorably discharged in 1955 because of his sexual orientation. We’ve come a long way in supporting our service members and veterans, but we still have a long way to go.
It’s no secret that military ports like San Diego quickly became hubs for the LGBTQ community since WWII as we found each other and chose to remain amongst found family rather than return to more rural communities that weren’t always as accepting. If we look back at San Diego’s LGBTQ history, we will find it hard to de-couple veterans from the evolution and progress our community has seen on a local and national scale.
Which veterans can we thank?
Jess Jessop who helped lead the local Gay Liberation Front, founded The Center, and helped to form Lambda Archives. Jeri Dilno who secured the first San Diego Pride Parade Permit in 1975, and presented on LGBTQ health issues to the American Nurses Association in 1975 – 1977. Community advocates who fought for our protections and built the capacity of our movement like Bridget Wilson and Ben Dillingham. Robert Lynn, who passed this year, who founded much of our region’s LGBTQ political strategy and the organization now known as the San Diego Equality Business Association. One of our current board members, Joanna Sansoterra, became the first active-duty service member in the country to receive approval from the DoD to wear her uniform in a Pride parade, setting off a chain of events that lead to sweeping approval for uniforms at Pride elevating LGBTQ veteran visibility nationally. Other local LGBTQ veterans of note include people like Autumn Sandeen, Kristin Beck, Evander Deocariza, Alberto Cortés, Ronnie Zerrer, and so many more.
On this Veterans Day, please don’t just take a moment to thank our veterans for their service to country and community, but consider for a moment the work we as a nation have yet to do to ensure their ongoing needs after their service and how you can play a role. Veterans and particularly LGBTQ and BIPOC veterans face greater hurdles to accessing employment, housing, health care, and mental health services. While some of these points of care are improving, that improvement is asymmetrical at best.
While some of the best ways to support our veterans and service members is to support peace and diplomacy, we also need to repair broken systems that have exploited and neglected marginalized communities. LGBTQ veterans have lifted up our movement and it is incumbent upon us to ensure we return the favor. So much of their work in our movement has allowed us to pursue Justice with Joy!
Fernando Zweifach López
Executive Director | San Diego Pride