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Ten veterans inducted as part of LGBT Veterans Wall of Honor ceremony

Jude Litzenberger

An enthusiastic crowd rejoiced at the ceremony on Veteran’s Day when 10 veterans were inducted as part of the LGBT Veterans Wall of Honor at The LGBT Community Center.

“We don’t have to hide anymore. Those days are over,” said Roger Greenseth, who recalled enlisting 60 years ago and going to boot camp in the U.S. Army in 1957.

“This is totally awesome,” said Greenseth, who smiled and flashed a peace sign from that era. “I’ll give you a present from the 1960s. Peace and love,” he said to applause.

The wall is officially known as the Benjamin F. Dillingham III and Bridget Wilson LGBT Veterans Wall of Honor.

Many veterans recalled the years when they could not be openly gay in the military. John Lockhart mentioned the McCarthy-era witch hunts for communists in the 1950s. Lockhart enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1951.

Robert Bettinger, now 89, enlisted in the Army in 1946, and told the crowd “we were all involved in a different time” when there was rationing of gasoline, food, rubber and other changes during World War II. Bettinger became a college chaplain during the Vietnam War.

Bettinger marveled at all the changes, saying “who would have thought 70 years later” he would get this honor.

Zander Keig, who was stationed in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1986, is transgender and is now a clinical social worker. He is also part of the Naval Medical Center regional transgender care team. He has also worked as a book editor.

Keig recalled when he was awarded “Miss Gay Pride” in San Diego. He said he has learned to rescue the emotionally wounded, saying “we are wounded in many ways.” He said one of the lessons he learned was to be of service to others.

Jude Litzenberger recalled the comment by a Navy commander in July, 1975, when he said “your first order of the day is to shorten that skirt.” She said it was her first day at the fleet at the Naval Beach group and nobody seemed to know what to do with assigning a female sailor to their seagoing staff.

“Sexual harassment and sexual assault occurred often and those who reported it were targeted, especially if they were not straight,” said Litzenberger, who retired in 1995 as a lieutenant commander.

“Our survival plan was to learn our jobs, volunteer for as much as we could and be assets to our commands. We would earn the respect of our shipmates,” said Litzenberger. “I sacrificed relationships under both Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the doctrine it replaced which required any of our shipmates who knew we were gay to turn us in or face their own disciplinary charges.”

“As I gained rank and the Navy changed, I learned to lead. Along with many of my contemporaries, I continued to break the glass ceiling,” said Litzenberger, who is now an attorney. “I looked out for junior sailors, doing what I could to create a way for them to serve without harassment.”

Litzenberger has also influenced California lawmakers to enact laws that allow for veterans’ courts for those veterans who suffered from service-related mental health conditions and can obtain court monitored treatment. She is a supervising attorney for free legal assistance and referral clinics and has defended veterans in court.

Litzenberger has been involved with the Metropolitan Community Church since 1991 and has taught hundreds of adult Sunday School classes. MCC staff attended the ceremony along with many members.

“I continue to do what the Navy taught me best – serving others. But this time, I serve them as an out and proud veteran,” said Litzenberger.

Justin Brent said he enlisted in the Army in 1963 and was stationed in Germany. Brent recalled working with the San Diego Democratic Club and on Al Best’s campaign when Best was the first acknowledged gay person to run for the San Diego City Council in the 1970s.

Craig Morgan enlisted in the Navy in 1966 and had a top secret security clearance. “I feel very humble along with all these other people,” said Morgan.

Nichole “Nic” Herrera enlisted in the Army in 2006. Robert Leyh joined the Navy in 1993. Wayne Dietz Jr., was the only inductee who was not present for the ceremony as he was in New Orleans. Dietz joined the Navy in 1975 and is a founding member of Bears San Diego.

State Sen. Toni Atkins gave remarks along with Councilmember Christopher Ward, Nicole Murray Ramirez and Bridget Wilson, who is a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve.

Morgan Hurley and Lori Hensic, the co-chairs of the LGBT Veterans Wall of Honor Advisory Council, told the crowd they welcome suggestions for other veterans to be honored. They meet monthly.

The wall is thought to be the first of its kind to honor LGBT veterans when it was unveiled at The Center Nov. 10, 2011.

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Posted by on Nov 22, 2017. Filed under Around the City, Latest Issue. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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