By Morgan M. Hurley
New fundraising effort for LGBT Veterans Wall launched as nomination deadline approaches
The Benjamin F. Dillingham & Bridget Wilson LGBT Veterans Wall of Honor will host its eighth induction ceremony this November and with some changes afoot, the wall’s advisory council is reaching out to the community for help.
Always held the Thursday prior to Veterans Day at the San Diego LGBT Community Center, the annual event was launched less than two months after Sept. 20, 2011, the official repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the Department of Defense directive that banned gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military.
To many, DADT was seen as a “compromise,” because gays and lesbians could enter the five services or continue to serve, as long as they were never “found out,” but discharges escalated under the policy. For decades prior to DADT, gay and lesbian service members lived in fear on a daily basis; they were pursued, hunted down in bars, and subjected to witch hunts, criminal investigations and bad conduct discharges.
Transgender service members were never addressed under DADT or its eventual repeal, but they were always forbidden from serving. Before leaving office, steps were taken by President Obama to also end the ban on transgender service; however, under President Donald Trump, things have returned to a tenuous state, and while an extended court battle is expected, transgender service members are now serving under a status similar to DADT themselves.
The Center’s LGBT Veterans Wall, a vision of local LGBT leader Nicole Murray Ramirez, seeks to honor those LGBT veterans who served in silence over those many decades, that have ties to San Diego, and once out of the military, continued to visibly work toward equality in their communities.
To date, 67 LGBT service members’ names have been placed on the wall, which is located on the southwest corner of The Center’s auditorium. Dillingham, who along with Wilson were the first of four inductees of the wall’s inaugural ceremony in 2011, passed away in November of 2017. A special tribute will be made in memory of him at November ceremony, with a photo unveiling.
Those nominated for induction to the wall each year go through a selection process, with final determinations made by the wall’s advisory council, who also produce the annual ceremony each year. Nominations for this year’s induction ceremony must be received by July 31.
This year’s advisory council consists of seven former inductees: Morgan M. Hurley, who acts as chair (USN, 2013); Veronica Ferrer (USA, 2016); Shaun Flak (USMC, 2013); Sean Redmond (USAF, 2017); Joanna Sansoterra (USAF, 2016); Luke Terpstra (USA, 2012); and Evelyn Thomas (USMC, 2013).
In the past, funding for the wall and its annual ceremony was covered by targeted donations, but starting with this year, the advisory council has been tasked with looking for ways to raise money to keep this important effort going strong.
The fundraising goal for 2018 is $3,000.
Funds raised will pay for the wall’s name plates, engraving, producing the ceremony, which includes food and refreshments, flowers, programs, a special LGBT Veterans Wall pin for each inductee, use of The Center’s auditorium, Center staff time, miscellaneous other expenses, and coverage of an ancillary event, which gathers new inductees together with prior inductees in advance of the official induction ceremony.
When fellow board members of Neutral Corner, a local transgender support organization that has been in existence since 1985, heard of the wall’s new fundraising goal from Zerrer, they immediately committed to a $1,000 match opportunity for this year’s efforts. For each dollar that the advisory council raises, Neutral Corner will match that, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $1,000.
“We felt that trans men and women should take the lead in helping to fund The Center’s Wall of Honor,” stated Zerrer, Neutral Corner’s board president and a retired US Army major. “It’s an uncertain time for trans troops, with President Trump’s proposed ban on open military service. We believe that our financial commitment to keeping the wall up at The Center should demonstrate how valuable it remains to every LGBT person who enters The Center, that we assert our right to support and defend the country we can all call home.”
Ways in which the advisory council may be looking to raise money this year include a bingo night; the sale of lapel pins (see sidebar); Facebook birthday donations — with advisory council member Redmond already conducting a successful campaign this way to raise $285 — and reaching out to local veteran organizations for sponsorship dollars.
Those with additional fundraising ideas can email Ben Cartwright, The Center’s representative to the advisory council, at email@example.com. To learn more about Neutral Corner, visit neutralcornersd.org.
“The Benjamin F. Dillingham III & Bridget Wilson LGBT Veterans Wall of Honor is a wonderful part of our Center that honors the many courageous LGBTQ veterans who served our country honorably, most of them in silence,” Cartwright said. “Being able to celebrate these veterans is one of the highlights of my job each year. It’s been a pleasure working with the Advisory Council since I came on board at The Center in 2014, and I’m so excited that the group has decided to expand their role beyond induction selections to also include raising funds and support for this program. The Center is committed to honoring our veterans and we appreciate the support of our entire community, along with the Wall’s founders, Nicole Murray-Ramirez, Bridget Wilson, and the late Ben Dillingham, for their continued support.”
If you know a local LGBT veteran who meets the criteria and you’d like to nominate them for this year’s induction ceremony, visit bit.ly/2sb5QEZ for details and get your packet in to Ben Cartwright by July 31. The ceremony will take place Nov. 8, from 6–8 p.m. at The Center.
—Morgan M. Hurley is the former editor of Gay San Diego. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.