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Gays in the Military – Not Serving in Silence

02 Aug Posted by in • Robin Lowey | 1 comment
Gays in the Military – Not Serving in Silence

In Col. Grethe Cammermeyer’s own words:

If you saw the film, SERVING IN SILENCE, you know about my challenge of the military’s anti-gay policy prior to the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law of 1993. If you read my autobiography, also entitled, SERVING IN SILENCE, written with Chris Fisher, and published in 1994 you “got the rest of the story” – as far as it went to – 1994. You saw, heard, and had snippets of life in our home and met the key immediate family members. So let me give you some updates.

I was discharged from the military losing all military privileges. We filed a law suit in Federal Court and 25 months later I won that suit and was reinstated in the military. According to my commander, it was as though I had never been discharged. I served one more year in reserve status with the Washington State National Guard and then went on inactive status for two additional years. I retired in 1997 with full privileges having served a total of 31 1/2 years.

Yes, you heard that right – Thirty One and a Half years of military service! Read on and watch the interview of this amazing woman.

Col. Grethe Cammermeyer is a tall woman with an infectious smile and an easygoing manner. I had enjoyed chatting with her and her adorable wife Diane over dinner the previous night, and I was excited to watch her presentation. She was part of a large group of trailblazers and entertainers that filled the ship for Olivia’s 40th Anniversary Cruise to the Eastern Caribbean in 2013. I was invited to her stateroom to do a short interview. Check it out below.

Grethe strides onto the stage and opens with “I became a spokeswoman, but my story is your story. Coming out in the military wasn’t easy for me, but I felt it was my responsibility. Our house was graffiti-ed and I had to testify in front of Strahm Thurmond. He said things like ‘have you considered therapy?’ and ‘couldn’t you have just kept quiet?’  Homophobia was so entrenched in the military. 14,000 people were discharged—1st with the anti-gay policy and then later with DADT. Imagine how much that cost the American Government and how many wonderful dedicated members of the military were lost.”

Grethe helped pave the way for amazing people like General Tammy Smith, who shared the stateroom next door to mine with her wife Tracy. Interestingly, they met on an Olivia cruise in 2004 and decided as a couple for Tammy to apply to be a General.

In the beginning of their time together, they found sanctuary on the cruises, the only place they felt safe to be fully themselves as a couple. After DADT was repealed and Tammy became the first openly lesbian General, that has now all changed. Col. Cammermeyer and General Smith are two important trailblazers whose bravery and courage were instrumental in getting DOMA passed. Even though it is legal in many states, until DOMA passed, Gay marriage was still not recognized by the Federal Government. Now the legal spouses of military personnel (as well as other Federal government employees) will finally receive their partner’s benefits.

Edie Windsor, who was also on the cruise, was the plaintiff that challenged DOMA —it was her case that ultimately overturned DOMA—in the Supreme Court. Check out the film about her struggle on Netflix called Edie and Thea. It is a wonderful film that first aired on an Olivia Alaska Cruise and I was lucky enough to see it and meet the filmmakers. They can be contacted at BlessedBlessed productions.

Ed note: This article first ran in 2013, but in the wake of the current political campaign, I felt it appropriate to repost. Let’s revisit LGBT history in the military, so we can all brush up on the facts from those who lived it!

  • Helmi Kelstrom says:

    I have met her and I think I know her. She is an incredible person, very kind and compassionate. My husband was a Navy JAG for many years and he also admires her and the courage she showed during the tough times with the military. Her partner is also a special person and loved by this community.

  • Connie Eastman says:

    Proud to be a long time friend.

  • Nancy says:

    nice interview, very eloquent. She was at an NCLR event a few years ago along with Glen Close and it was wonderful to be in both of their presence. They paved the way.

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One comment

  • John Stark says:

    I consider Grethe full of personal courage with an iron core of principles that make her what I would call a “Home Town Hero” She is energetic, talented, socially active with her wife Dianne Devilbiss…A true hero on every level!