On April 20, 2010 at about three o’clock in the morning, when some people are sleeping in a nice warm bed under covers getting a good night’s rest, I was in my jail cell watching a roach crawl along the wall praying it would not reach my bunk, I asked myself “why am I doing this, what is the purpose?” It had been several hours since I handcuffed myself to the fence of the White House.
Then I remembered the young men and women that committed an act of civil disobedience to protest segregation in the South. During a time in this country in which as a Black woman it was illegal for me to own a library card; it was illegal for me to enter a public facility, it illegal for me to vote, or as a gay person in the State of California, it was illegal for me to become a teacher. It was people like Diane Judith Nash and Harvey Milk that fought the good fight so that I could become a candidate of the Democratic Party San Diego 74th Assembly District for Central Committee and an Educator with the Oceanside Unified School District. These courageous and brave people met the challenges and fought the necessary battles, so I did not have to. It is my responsibility to fight for this and the next generation LGBT people that wish to serve our country. When I stood at attention handcuffed to the fence of the White House, it was not for me. It was for the young men and women that wish to proudly serve their country in dignity and in their true essence.
It was an act of civil disobedience to protest the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policy. The goal of the protest is to demand the repeal language for DADT be written into the Defense Authorization Bill. I was requested to participate for two reasons (1) to bring awareness and attention to the LGBT and Black community that the largest percentage of people impacted by DADT are women of color, and (2) my advocacy work with The Sanctuary Project.
It is a ministry I established in October 2009 to advocate for active-duty service members and veterans impacted by DADT.
At 17, out of the basic need to survive my personal hell, I enlisted in the Armed Forces, Little did I know, 20 years later, I would establish The Sanctuary Project and handcuff myself to the gates of the White House demanding equality and social justice for LGBT service members.
My only thought at that tender age of 17 was leaving Texas and moving California; the land of freedom; all my young life all I heard was California was the place of “Freaks and Queers”. Every time I heard that statement my drive and desire to live in California became stronger; it became a matter of survival. If you’re not from Texas, then you probably will not understand this statement, “Texas is like living on another planet, they’re way thinking is backwards”. I remember in high school a boy was suspended for wearing an earring. I could not live in my true essence, as an African-American Gay person with all this love to give. I had to leave. At the time my only choice was to enlist in the Armed Forces. It was a matter of survival.
Anytime someone asked me the question, why did you join the military? My programmed response was, “I enlisted in the military because it allowed me to earn money to attend college. I enlisted under the Montgomery G.I. Bill. If I dedicated 6 years of my life to the military, then the government would help me pay for college. I came from a very poor family. We were on government assistance; we were on AFDC [food stamps and monthly stipend], government cheese, etc…… We were so poor; my mom sometimes did not have enough money to pay the light bill. I spent many nights in the dark.” I had the grades. I was an honor roll student.
My counselors did not talk with me about scholarships, student loans etc… In Texas it is God, Country, and Football and if you did not meet that criterion you did not receive any advice or assistance about attending college. Man was I in denial. The truth is I enlisted in the military, because I heard that only lesbians were the Army, I wanted to meet other lesbians, and wanted to leave the homophobic environment.
At 17, I enlisted into the Army National Guard. It was a matter of survival for me. I had to leave home in order to live in my true essence as a gay person. If I stayed home in that destructive environment; I enlisted in the services prior to the enactment of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. This was during time when the federal government had the right to ask,”if you were a homosexual and had you ever participated in homosexual activity?” These two questions were the mental examination for the Armed Forces. Remember, it was a matter of survival for me; if I responded with an honest answer-there goes my chances of joining the military; I would go back to the homophobic environment. So I lied to join the military. It gave me the opportunity to start a new and different life; I could reinvent myself. I had to signed an official document stating the case “I was not a homosexual and never participated in a homosexual activity.” and it became apart of my military record. I passed the mental exam; as a result I was sworn-in for the Armed Forces. A month later, I was shipped-off to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. After my initial training, I was shipped to Fort Lee Virginia, to train to become a supply clerk. About a month after my arrival, my company went to an event in which The President’s Own and The Silent Drill Team performed. I was so blown away at the precise movements of the platoon and the ability of each Marine to follow a command without a word spoken.
. I decided at that moment to leave the Army and join the Marine Corps. My thought was, “I wanted to be apart of something that is, that bad [slang-term for good], they can follow a command without speaking a word’ they must be tough.” After completing my training, I reported back to my Army National Guard unit in Temple, Texas, and immediately began the process to transfer from the Army to the U.S. Marine Corps.
Due to the fact the U.S. Marine Corps is an elite force that is separate and different than the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard I had to endure another 3 months of boot camp. I was shipped off to Paris Island, South Carolina for the U.S. Marine Corps boot camp. After boot camp, I was shipped-off to Camp LeJeune North Carolina to train to become a baker. Please do not get it confused with a cook. Baker’s are of a different breed than cooks. I spent the remaining of career for the Marine Corps stationed at Camp Pendleton. I was assigned to 1st Marine Battalion Supply Company for little over a year. Until my roommate went into my locker, ravage through my personal items and stole a letter from mother. In the letter my mother asked me about my new girlfriend. My roommate went to our commanding officer, stating “she was afraid I would do something to her because I was a lesbian.” From that statement, my commanding officer paged me to his office, read me my Miranda Rights, and ask me if I was a homosexual. Trembling with fear and the thought of being thrown out of the military I lied and said “no”. My commanding officer seeing me literally shaking and scared began to laugh at me. The next day, my commanding officer ordered 3 male Marines to move out of their room. I was placed in their room and isolated from everyone else; especially female Marines.
From that day, my First Sergeant and my commanding officer began to harass me on a daily basis; trashing my room, having other Marines spy and report my activities to my commanding officer, making sexist derogatory statements. Eventually, I was shipped along with other female Marines; one was caught shop lifting negligee from the 13 area Camp Pendleton Country Store and the other her boyfriend was the top drug dealer on base. Due to the fact we were considered “problem Marines” we were shipped to isolated sectors of Camp Pendleton; I was transferred to Edison Range Weapons Field Training Battalion.
I survived my time and received an honorable discharge from the Marine Corps. This was over twenty years ago. Even though at times it was horrific due to the injustice placed upon me because of sexual orientation, I loved serving my country and acting as a patriotic American. So this week, when I go to Washington D. C. to lobby for our people, I lobby for our people’s right to serve our country and the freedom to serve in their true essence.
I am a civilian contractor looking to speak to others in San Diego. Please let me know how I can help. I am writing letters calling for our elected officials in Congress to pass ENDA and repeal DADT. It is imperative! The Military may make its own laws, but the funding comes from us, the American taxpayer.
Lisa, your best contact and person for this project in our area would probably be Scott Spychala again. He is the gentleman who ended up taking over for the Veteran's Day Rally here in Indy. He is on my Facebook if he is not on yours. Good luck with this.