LGBT Pride Month and a History of its Pioneers

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jahara Matisek
  • 80th Operation Support Squadron
A great American reformer and abolitionist of the 19th century, Theodore Parker, once wrote, "I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."

The same can now be said about the trend towards Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender equality. President Clinton was the first American president to declare June to be LGBT Pride Month in 2000 and President Obama has been declaring it every year since 2009. In addition, the repeal of the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" Policy in 2011 and the Supreme Court finding the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional is indicative of a universe that continues to bend towards justice and equality. It is this history that has defined the LGBT community and its movement in society and in the military over the course of hundreds of years in America and around the world. Hence, it is vital to recognize these LGBT pioneers that are important to celebrate every day, and more so especially in the month of June, our LGBT Pride Month.

One of the most important LGBT pioneers in the realm of American military affairs was a Prussian officer named Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. Von Steuben ended up in American military service by virtue of being expelled from a German state for 'homosexual acts' in the late 18th century. His expulsion from Europe was a great gain for an ill-equipped bunch of rebellious colonists; General von Steuben came to be one of the founding fathers of the Continental Army as he was credited with writing the first military manual for the US, the Revolutionary War Drill Manual. Furthermore, he rose to the rank of Major General during the American Revolutionary War and later served as chief of staff for George Washington towards the end of the war, all with few objections to his "open lifestyle choices." General von Steuben's contributions as Inspector General of the Continental Army and building the foundation of American military tactics that defeated the preeminent military power of his time, makes him one of the founding fathers of the US military and a proud military icon of LGBT pride.

The first celebration of LGBT Pride month in June was in 1970, which commemorated the Stonewall Riots of June, 1969. The Stonewall Riots were caused by a New York City police raid in Greenwich Village that occurred at an LGBT friendly hotel, the Stonewall Inn. The ensuing riots highlighted the disapproving attitudes aimed at the LGBT community. The Stonewall Riots can be discerned as a decisive moment for the LGBT movement as it led to the creation of numerous LGBT 'friendly' support organizations and advocacy newspapers that reinforced the LGBT community. It was in these tumultuous times of the 1970s that a historical figure would emerge as a shining beacon for the LGBT movement, and still serves that purpose to this day; Harvey Milk.

Harvey Milk is known as a pioneer in the US for his role for championing the rights of the LGBT movement, as he was the first openly gay non-incumbent to win public office in America. As an elected city supervisor of San Francisco transcended all boundaries to not only improve the lives of all San Francisco residents, but also redressing laws that discriminated against sexual orientation. Furthermore, Milk fought fiercely and successfully to protect the LGBT community from draconian state laws, such as the Briggs Initiative (Proposition 6) which would have made it compulsory to fire any public employee that supported gay rights. Milk's lionization as a key figure for the LGBT community was further reinforced in a critically acclaimed biographical film titled "Milk" starring Sean Penn, which displayed the warmth and humanity of Milk as a visionary who sought dignity for himself and for all Americans.

On 30 May 2014, the LGBT Presidential Proclamation was signed. It states "As progress spreads from state to state, as justice is delivered in the courtroom, and as more of our fellow Americans are treated with dignity and respect -- our nation becomes not only more accepting, but more equal as well. During Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, we celebrate victories that have affirmed freedom and fairness, and we recommit ourselves to completing the work that remains."

The Armed Forces have always led the nation in the promotion of equality based on merit. Celebrating LGBT Pride Month is more about acknowledging the progress and strides the U.S. has made in ensuring equal rights for all. It is in this light that respect for all is appreciated with the vision of a better world for all. General von Steuben and Harvey Milk represent that progress and vision that has made America the country that it is today.