Veteran’s Day Observed by Local LGBT Group

By Frank Pizzoli

Jene Newsome

Today members of the Armed Forces, both gay and straight, and Harrisburg’s Jene Newsome gathered in the Capital to acknowledge contributions made by all members of the service branches in observance of Veteran’s Day.

The event was organized by the Central PA LGBT Aging Network (CPLAN), affiliated with The LGBT Community Center and whose mission is to promote a positive and healthy environment for lgbt elderly, many of whom served in the military. Equality PA’s executive director Ted Martin served as master of ceremonies.

Newsome had been discharged in February 2010 under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” but has since been reinstated. At the time, she told Central Voice “I’ve always played by the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell rules, all nine years of my Air Force service. There was no reason for the police to inform the military about my personal life,” referring to the fact that a legal issue with her partner lead police to their home where they observed, through a window, the couple’s marriage license.

Coincidentally, the US Senate Judiciary Committee today voted to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which redefined marriage for federal purposes to exclude same-sex unions that are valid under state law. Martin noted in his remarks that although DADT has been repealed, DOMA stands in glaring contradiction with the intent of DADT. For example, although DADT’s repeal allows Newsome back into the armed services, there are, as of yet, no ways for her marriage to be recognized on par with heterosexual couples.

When her discharge troubles began, Newsome’s service friends and family “were right there for me,” she said. “They were accepting of my engagement and commitment ceremony,” she said.

Acceptance has been a challenge for Danielle Finnegan, a member of the region’s transgender community, served for 46 years in the service. She is also active with TransCentralPA, an organization that promotes education and understanding on transgender issues. Finnegan spoke with emotion about her near half century of service. “Transgender individuals have always served in the Armed Forces,” she said.

A 20-year veteran, Capt. Esteban Diaz, who served 20 years in the Air Force, including service in Dessert Storm, Iraqi Freedom, and Enduring Freedom, told Central Voice “I know the military is more than capable of implementing DADT repeal and all that my mean to service members.” He noted that military service is purely merit based and now “gay people can judged on merit” not sexuality.

CPLAN is mounting a monthly slate of events and activities to bring increased awareness around lgbt senior issues. Temple MSW candidate Donald Anklam has recently been spearheading the CPLAN effort. He is known to the region from his recent role as Central PA Pride Festival’s vice-president and fundraising chair.

“We’re planning something monthly for the community and actively working with organizations to raise awareness around lgbt issues,” Anklam said. He is using a two-pronged approach: Real events for real people and real “product” oriented services so that, for example, nursing homes and senior agencies can best implement inclusive policies called for in upcoming implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

“By 2014, health care reform measures will be looking at ways organizations are responsive to lgbt needs,” Anklam pointed out. LGBT needs are not special needs by any means Anklam stresses. “Asking that lgbt people be treated with dignity and respect isn’t a special request.”

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