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NEWS

In the name of love (pride)

As Orlando prepares for Come Out With Pride, we highlight some reasons to be proud of our LGBT community

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“It’s very affirming,” he says. “When you look back … our info only really goes back to the ’70s. Everything before the ’70s was secretive. People didn’t want their pictures taken.”

But now their histories remain somewhere.

Do Tell

An Orlando group is raising the profile of LGBT veterans

By Jeff Gore

When President Obama ordered the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell last December, it signaled the long-awaited end of a painful period for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered veterans. Since then, Orlando’s LGBT veterans and their advocates, not content to simply celebrate the policy change, have begun to lay the groundwork for a new social order. This past June, the VA Medical Center hosted a gay pride celebration for the first time in its history. Less than six months prior, the LGBT Community Center of Central Florida (otherwise known as “The Center”) installed what is only the third monument in the nation to specifically honor the military service of LGBT individuals. And two months prior to that, at the Orlando Veterans Day Parade, LGBT veterans marched openly for the first time ever.

This impressive level of activity by and on behalf of LGBT veterans in Orlando is due in part to a robust local organization called Out & Proud Veterans of America. Though it hasn’t been around long – the group held its first official meeting in July – it’s already assumed the role as one-stop-shop for LGBT vets. Among its many functions are providing referrals to veterans aid organizations, advising the local VA Medical Center on mental and physical health issues particular to LGBT veterans, holding regular social events (and irregular ones, such as the Sept. 20 party at the Orlando VAMC celebrating the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) and erecting monuments to honor LGBT veterans like the flagpole at the Center.

The monument honors a different veteran (or group of veterans) every month, and more flagpoles are planned for other LGBT centers across the state. A $50 donation earns you the privilege to hoist a brand-new American flag in honor of the veteran(s) of your choosing – whatever their sexual orientation – and at end of the month, the flag is given to you. In August, the veteran of honor was Andrew Wilfahrt of Minnesota, a gay Army corporal killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in February. On this occasion, Out & Proud Veterans of America and the Center fronted the money for the flag, which was presented to Wilfahrt’s parents on Sept. 24 in Miami.

Most encouraging about Out & Proud Veterans of America is the group’s potential to go national – the group’s founder, Navy veteran Mark Cady, says he has already been asked to help create a chapter in Portland, Ore. He says he politely declined because he wants to avoid suffering the fate of other groups that expanded too quickly. “What we’re trying to do is start it more grass roots, on a local level, and once we get a really solid hold on that, then we’re going to start to spread,” he says. Either way, Orlando wins.

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