Father John Reid remembers a time when fear reigned in America’s military. Fear not for the enemy, but to be outed as a gay man.
As a veteran of the Korean Conflict, Reid, now a priest at Divine Mercy Chapel in Wilton Manors, talked about what it was like to be a gay man in the military during the 1950s when homosexuality was strictly forbidden.
“If you were caught, you were thrown out. Dishonorable discharge. End of story,” Reid said.
Municipalities across South Florida celebrated their military heroes on Veteran’s Day, but it was in Wilton Manors where gay men and women talked openly of their service.
“Let us not forget our LGBT veterans who had to fight just to serve their country,” said Wilton Manors Mayor Gary Resnick.
About 100 people attended the ceremony inside the community center at Hagen Park, where Reid, who served in the United States Army, gave the invocation and called for a “shutdown” of the war in Afghanistan.
“Bring our men and women home, God,” he said.
Reid and many others delivered readings describing America’s military campaigns in World War I, II, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf and the on-going War on Terror. Some of the readings painfully described the times and situations. Skip Stadnik, 79, read a poem as tribute to those lost in combat.
“We all had buddies,” said Stadnik, an Army veteran. “There was always that one guy you became closely attracted to. It was an I take care of you, you take care of me thing.”
Presented by the Wilton Manors Leisure Services Department, the event also included a breakfast, flag ceremony by the Fort Lauderdale High School NJROTC and wreath presentation.
“This is an extremely important day,” said Scott Herman, a disabled veteran of Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield in Iraq. “Today, we honor and remember those who sacrifice so much for this country.”
As an openly gay man running for the Florida House of Representatives in District 93, Herman said he was pleased with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s recent criticism of Florida as one of the last holdout states to comply with Pentagon regulations regarding same-sex spouses and health benefits.
Herman recently married his spouse, Cale Choi, in Canada. Such an event was unheard of during Reid’s time in the Army.
“It’s a different world now,” Reid said. “Service men and women do not live in fear.”
Herman agreed, adding discrimination typically comes from those who never served in uniform.John McDonald