Steve Loomis had a good day today.
He was apprehensive that his group, the Bataan Chapter of the American Veterans for Equal Rights, might hear adverse comments as they marched alongside other military members in the parade today. But not one stray insult flew from the crowd as Loomis and a dozen other gay New Mexico veterans made the trek from the Veterans Hospital down Gibson to the Veterans Memorial on Louisiana.
“People applauded as we went by and saluted our flag. We were wonderfully pleased and proud to be there,” Loomis says.
The Bataan Chapter of AVER got a color guard together this year. First in line was the stars and stripes. Next up, the state flag. Then, the chapter flag, a white background with a rainbow stripe running diagonally across it adorned by five stars representing each military branch. And finally, the rainbow pride flag. “All flags had gold trim,” he says, laughing. “Just like in the gay community, everything has to be colorful.”
The most common reaction to the local chapter of AVER is one of astonishment, Loomis says. The group is a member of the Albuquerque United Veterans Council, the organization that puts on Veterans Day and Memorial Day events. “The response is most often one of surprise, and then, Oh, well, we’re glad you’re here,” he says. “That was a lot of what we had today.”
The Military Readiness Enhancement Act seeks to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The bill was introduced to Congress in the spring, and local AVER members began working with New Mexico’s delegation to support the measure. Along with that effort, the group decided to increase its visibility—hence, first-time participation in Albuquerque’s Veterans Day parade.
“One of the purposes of our organization is to represent gay veterans. But also, part of the reason we’re so active in trying to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is that active-duty soldiers, sailors and marines can’t speak openly about it without risking their careers. It falls even more on us as veterans to fight the good fight,” Loomis says.
And he is familiar with that good fight. Once his sexuality was discovered in 1997, he was discharged from the Army five days before his eligibility for retirement. He went to Federal Court and won his case. Loomis, who served in Vietnam, retired as a decorated Army lieutenant colonel.
“Since Veterans Day recognizes all veterans, we wanted to make sure it recognized gay veterans also,” he says.