One fact about von Steuben that is often left out of the history books, however, is his sexual orientation. Von Steuben, the Revolutionary War hero who is sometimes referred to as the “father of America’s Army,” was gay. In fact, he first came to the Colonies in order to escape persecution for his homosexuality. Before the United States even existed, a gay man gave his service to champion its ideals of freedom. And from that day to this, thousands (at least) of LGBT soldiers have served in the United States Armed Forces, doing their part to fight for the country they love. But for over 200 years, they were forced to do so in silence and in fear that because of who they were, they would face dishonorable discharge, violence and even death.
With the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and the official acceptance of soldiers of all sexual orientations, gay and bisexual men and women can serve openly. And now, a monument at the New Mexico Veterans Memorial park (1100 Louisiana SE) will openly honor all those who gave their service, and sometimes their lives, in forced silence.
Now, a monument at the New Mexico Veterans Memorial park will openly honor all those who gave their service, and sometimes their lives, in forced silence.
The monument itself is simple and unobtrusive. A rose marble stone—“The closest we could get to pink,” says Loomis, laughing—that bears the inscription “In honor of all who proudly served and now serve our country, together in harms way, regardless of their race, gender, nationality, faith, gender identity or sexual orientation. Serving in silence, fighting for freedom, since Valley Forge.”
“It was important for us to make it inclusive. And positive. We figured we would meet less resistance that way,” says Loomis, and indeed AVER found that the New Mexico Veterans Memorial Board was supportive of their design. “Even five years ago, that probably wouldn’t have happened.”
“He was always proud to be a sailor ... and proud of the men and women he served with. Sometime later, he was discovered to be gay and summarily discharged as so many others were at that time. For many years he hid this fact from his friends, his family and his co-workers. When he retired, he came to Albuquerque ... and for the first time openly took up the causes of our [LGBT] community ... During Pride Week of 2011, he died in his home. That man was our friend Donnell ‘Don’ Stevens, whose important estate gift made this monument possible. He was just one example of many who with patriotism served their country while silently serving in harms way through World Wars, Korean Wars, Vietnam, Panama, Desert Storm and most recently Afghanistan and Iraq. This memorial will now stand in recognition of their service and will include those they proudly served with over two centuries since the Revolutionary war.”
“The transgender community was left out of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal, and it’s yet another thing that congress must address or again we are continuing to allow our men and women to serve in silence. “
In front of the monument, some two dozen bricks bear the names of veterans who served in a military that would not accept them for who they were. Steve Loomis’ name is there, as are fellow Bataan AVER members Stephani Patten and Penn Baker, as well as more well-known figures like Harvey Milk, a veteran of the Korean War who was assassinated in San Francisco. And, in the upper left-hand corner, Friedrich von Steuben himself.
All around them are bricks awaiting the names of others who have served, are serving and will serve their country proudly. And at last, they can be honored for who they were, and are.