On January 22, a bright but cool day in Orlando, Florida, military veterans gathered at the Orlando GLBT Center at 946 North Mills Avenue, just north of Colonial Drive, to dedicate a new flagpole outside the center to all who served our country, and particularly to those who served while hiding their true selves, as it was not permitted to be openly gay in the US Armed Forces. This ban was repealed by Congress on December 18, 2010, we lived with this “compromise” legislation for 17 years and we are still in the 60 day period, following President Barack Obama’s signing it on December 22, waiting for this law to take effect. Many of the audience wore the hats of the branch of the service they had silently served in. There were many veterans in the crowd, including several who were invited by their GLBT children. The Center was highly honored to be host to all the veterans.
A plaque on the flagpole states: “In honor of all U. S. Military Veterans, particularly those who have served our nation in silence as gay and lesbian service members.” With the dedication of the flagpole, Orlando joins Palm Springs, California and Phoenix, Arizona as the only three cities thus far to honor their GLBT Veterans.
The dedication was attended by many dignitaries including State Representative Scott Randolph, Center Board of Directors member Mark Cady, out Orlando Commissioner Patty Sheehan, and former Orlando Councilwoman and recent Harvey Milk Foundation Award Winner Linda Stewart. Center Executive Director Randy Stevens provided introductions, and thanked many, especially Executive Assistant Kay Brady, who had put this event together. Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, the independent from Connecticut who led the effort to end the ban, had been invited, but declined as it was on his Sabbath, but did send a note of congratulations to the Orlando Center.
The Orlando Gay Chorus sang “The Star Spangled Banner” a cappella to rousing applause, which was followed by the audience reciting The Pledge of Allegiance. The flag that was then raised over the Center had flown in Washington during the Obama Inauguration. It was retired after this dedication and would then be permanently displayed inside the Center. Flying right below was the new Center flag, a twist on the original gay flag designed in 1978 by Cherry Grove friend Gilbert Baker, himself an Army veteran. The new flag portrays the colors of the rainbow in a circle.
Prayers for the event were read by representatives of six different denominations, from Catholic to Wiccan to Buddhist. As I stood with the Orlando Gay Chorus, in their black billboard T-shirts, I was awed at the depth and breadth of the out and proud people of Orlando, my chosen winter home.