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Video of Ceremony "Out of Many, We Are One".

By Tom Swann
December 29, 2010

(Note: This article contains some religious views. The religious portion can be described as “A Catholic Gay Veteran Perspective after Witnessing President Obama Repeal DADT”).

This historic trip to Washington DC was a dream comes true for me. The trip cost over $2,000. I am living on disability income and this amount diminishes my emergency fund.

If you can please make a donation for this travel please send to:
Tom Swann
PO Box 499
Rancho Mirage CA 92270

Dear Family and Friends:

I want to thank everyone who congratulated me on being invited to go to Washington DC last week. I was deeply honored to attend the ceremony, where President Obama signed legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). Please accept this summary of my feelings and perspective about this important event.

I have worked on this civil rights issue since my civilian employment began at Point Mugu Navy Base in 1986. The Navy retaliated against me for telling the news media I am a proud gay veteran. This was, because they viewed my activism as a threat to their desire to maintain the status quo and keep LGBT out of the military. In 1993 Navy officials described me and other gay leaders trying to overturn the military ban on gays as a threat to national security. So when I received an invitation from the White House Monday late afternoon December 20 I started to tremble and shed a tear of gratitude. What a wonderful feeling to know President Obama does not believe gays like me are a threat to anyone.

I had previously met with Brian Bond, deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement in August. We discussed strategy for the repeal of DADT. My associate at the meeting was Bill Kibler, a Washington DC area resident and gay Marine Corps veteran who served in Beirut Lebanon. After confirming bill was also invited to meet with the President I made hotel and airline reservations. Since I was making a reservation less than 24 hours in advance during Christmas week, the cost on American Airlines was more than $1,800. That amount is more than I receive each month from SSDI. I ponder whether I could really afford to go to Washington DC. Everyone that I spoke to said yes I needed to pay this amount and make this trip. How do you tell the President you cannot be with him on this historic occasion?

When I have to make difficult decisions that require some faith I say a prayer. My friends have asked me to explain what religious faith means and how faith helps me make decisions in my life. I can describe it this way. The airlines reservation specialist told me there was only one seat left on the last flight departing Palm Springs for Dallas with connection to Washington DC Reagan national airport before bad weather may cancel flights on Tuesday December 21. I know weather such as rain seldom cancels flights at Palm Springs Airport. I felt it must be more than coincidence that the last seat on the last flight was still available at that exact moment when I needed to make a reservation. It seemed like that plane seat was meant perhaps by God for me. I also thought I would most likely be the only blind person invited to attend the ceremony. Since I had an assistant (Bill Kibler) to go with me I felt that I must go to represent other disabled veterans that could not attend the ceremony. So I purchased the ticket with the hope that my supporters would donate for my travel expenses when I returned to the desert. My faith helped me overcome the challenge of finances for this trip.

My ACLU case against the Navy is not the only challenge I have faced in life. In 1996 doctors said I only had six months to live because of AIDS. Your prayers and support have enabled me to overcome blindness, AIDS, bipolar and an injured hand so I could attain a level of activism in America that the President of the United States feels I am a somebody. Thank you so much for extending your love to me.

I arrived in Washington DC about 10:00 PM EST and checked into the hotel in Crystal City Virginia. On Wednesday December 22 at 6:30 AM Bill Kibler and I joined a line of people waiting to enter the Department of the Interior office building. It was cold but everyone was so excited we hardly noticed it. While standing in line David Mixner, the former gay senior political adviser to President Clinton arrived in a taxi cab. He gave me a great big hug and remarked, “We have been working on this for a long time haven’t we”? Later Frank Kameny arrived to attend the ceremony. Kameny advised late SGT. Leonard Matlovich when he “came out” to the Air Force in 1975. He is featured in my book and I gave him an award in 2000. I have been to his home and interviewed him. He was happy to see me. I shook hands with the Mother of slain gay Army soldier Barry Winchell and reminded her she attended a memorial ceremony we held in Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City. Around 7:30 AM someone made a decision that David Mixner, Barry Winchell’s Mother, Frank Kameny, Tom Carpenter of SLDN, a 91 year old major contributor to SLDN from Richmond VA whose name I don’t know, Bill Kibler and I should be in the front of the line and allowed into the building where it was warm. David Mixner asked me to go ahead of him into the building. Tom Carpenter remarked that our small group represented some very important history about the issue of gays in the military. This led to people taking photographs of us. I told David Mixner he was in chapter one of my book and he was grateful to receive a copy. I also gave a copy of my book to Frank Kameny, President Obama and Army Lt. Dan Choi.

The Los Angeles Times estimated the crowd to be about 500 people. I sat in the fourth row. The ceremony audience was a homecoming so to speak for activists from across the country. I saw some people that I have not seen in person for many years. They included Miriam Ben Shalom, Tom Carpenter, Mixner, Kameny, Eric Alva, Zoe Dunning, Greta Cammermeyer, Winchell’s Mother, Aaron Belkin, Dixon Osborne and others.

Congressional leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stood on stage. I shook hands with Senators Lieberman and Cohen as well as House Member Rep. Barney Frank. I wanted to shake hands with GOP Senator Olympia Snow but the opportunity did not present itself. I also shook hands with Navy Admiral Mullens who is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I thanked Mullens for his service to our country. Greta Cammermeyer led the pledge of allegiance. A Jewish Rabbi gave an invocation (see remarks below). Vice President Joe Biden introduced President Obama. From my distance of about 20 feet I could see Obama move his arm and turn his head.

I am proud to say I have shaken hands with Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter. I presented an award to President Gerald Ford. I also witnessed President Ford sign a letter I drafted. I have been in the same room or mall to protest or hear every other President since Richard Nixon. Now I was hearing in person for the first time Barack Obama.

My friend Andy Linsky of Palm Springs was another local resident invited to attend the ceremony. The Desert Sun reported that Andy Linsky was invited by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) to the ceremony. I was invited by Brian Bond at the White House. Andy has provided strong leadership to both the HRC and the Desert AIDS Project (DAP). He has made generous contributions to local charities. When I told him we wished to honor him with an award in May 2011 for the tenth anniversary of the gay veteran’s memorial in Cathedral City he humbly declined. Andy does not seek public recognition for his hard work to help others. His monuments surround him because of his tireless efforts. Clients of the DAP have received assistance that prolonged their lives. Andy’s work also means gays can report a hate crime, visit their partner in a hospital and now serve openly in the military.

The Desert Sun quoted me in three separate stories last week. My picture was on the front page of the valley section the same morning I was in Washington DC for the ceremony. USA Today interviewed me but I could not locate my comments in the on-line edition of the newspaper.

Many of my friends who worked hard on this issue died before our dream could be realized. From heaven I know they were cheering when President Obama signed the legislation. I am grateful to be a 20 year survivor of AIDS. Some of the people below did not survive AIDS. In memory of these people who I respect for their efforts to lift the ban I present their names below:
(Partial list)

Bud Robbins
Cliff Anchor
Perry Watkins
Tom Stoddard
Leonard Matlovich
Max Woerner
Dr. Paul Hardman
Bob Hattoy
Frank Moon
Randy Shilts
Mark Repass
Venerable Morris Kight
Rusty Pounds

Now it is important that we implement new policies in the military. There must be sensitivity training to cure some soldiers of homophobia. I pray military homophobes will have an open mind and an open heart. During the training process they should put their brains in neutral and their souls in gear

President Obama made the decision to have an invocation at the bill signing ceremony to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. Many liberals want to preserve the separation of church and state but the President wanted to include God on this historic occasion that took place in a federal government office building. By contrast prayer is not permitted in public schools.

In his invocation, Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff said that there should be unity and not uniformity in the military. He knows that Israel has permitted gays to serve openly in the military for many years. Jewish churches hold “Lovers Covenant” ceremonies to unite married same sex couples.

The Desert Sun article about this ceremony generated many comments from conservative Christians. Some of the comments implied that President Obama has committed a sin by enabling gays to serve openly in the military. In my experience the great sin has not been homosexuals wanting to serve their country. Rather the military terminating the careers of gays. Going on witch hunts to identify gays as well as assaults and harassment of gays is immoral. Discharges that cause gays to lose income which results in lack of food, loss of home, loss of medical care, electricity and phone is ungodly. I have first-hand experience in these matters because I was assaulted on a Navy Base, lost my job and went on unpaid leave for nine months. This injustice was done to me because I told the pentagon I was a proud gay veteran. I describe my successful ACLU case in my book, “For a Greater Good”.

The Catholic Church teaches that for some homosexuality is innate and not to be cured. This is based on the words of Christ Jesus in Matthew 19:12. If homosexuals are born that way why should they be denied military service and other federal benefits that come from service? The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “They (homosexuals) must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided”. The Pentagon has engaged in unjust discrimination that has ruined lives and caused some gays to commit suicide. President Obama has displayed the true love and sense of justice that God desires from all of us. It is a greater good for society to allow gays to serve openly in the military than to discriminate against them.

Thanks for reading and sharing with others.

Tom Swann
(760) 324-5670
(Picture below President Obama signs legislation. Photo courtesy of Bill Kibler)

I ask why spend so much money to go to Washington DC?

John Chapter 12 describes the expensive perfume used to wash Jesus feet before he went to Palm Sunday.

• Breathe deeply in and imagine the smell of a precious scent filling the house. It was an extravagant, wasteful and indulgent thing to do but speaks of a human reality: some opportunities need to be grasped as they arise, some moments need to be honoured, friendship cannot always be calculating.


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