Albert H. Fulcher | Editor
It is a long-standing tradition to honor the veterans for their dedication to this country, their service, and the continuing contributions they make within their own communities. During a standing-room-only event, 11 veterans from different decades of service were inducted into the Benjamin F. Dillingham, III & Bridget Wilson LGBT Veterans Wall of Honor on Nov. 8 at the San Diego LGBT Community Center.
The LGBT Wall of Honor recognizes local veterans who served this country honorably and continued their service as mentors in fighting for LGBT equality.
The 2018 LGBT Wall of Honor Advisory Council nominated this year’s inductees, whose names are now forever displayed on the wall. This was the first induction since the passing of Dillingham shortly after Veterans Day of last year. Advisory Councilmember Veronica Zerrer, and TransFamily Support Services board president, announced a $1,000 matching grant to sponsor this year’s Wall of Honor.
The Center’s Chief Executive Director Caroline (Cara) Dessert said it was an honor to celebrate with the local LGBT military family. This was her first year attending the ceremony in her new role.
“As we walk around the building and talk about our many services and programs here at The Center, every percent of our guests that come through stop right here, and it is my privilege to tell them that this wall is special to our community,” Dessert said. “Tonight we gather to celebrate some very special LGBT veterans and to express what this wall represents. In our military town, we have always had service members that are leaders in our LGBT community. This wall expresses our undying gratitude, made to honor those in our LGBT community that have often served our country with silence, but always with honor.”
The following veterans from the San Diego community were inducted as the 2018 Wall of Honor recipients.
- Eva Belanger, U.S. Air Force
- Norman Braxton, U.S. Navy
- Tom Carpenter, U.S. Marine Corps
- James Cassidy, U.S. Navy
- Courtland Hirschi, U.S. Marine Corps
- James Kilpatrick, U.S. Marine Corps
- Bob Pedrick, U.S. Navy
- James Seal, U.S. Air Force
- Al Smithson, U.S. Navy
- Robert G. Wheeler, U.S. Air Force
- Will Williams, U.S. Navy
Wall of Honor’s founder Nicole Murray Ramirez said San Diego is proud to be home to the largest military community in the Western hemisphere. Ramirez said he learned early in life from his father to proudly honor and support all veterans, reminding him that they are the reason for his freedom today.
“A civil rights movement that doesn’t know where it came from, does not really know where it is going,” Ramirez said. “These two walls, the Veterans Wall and the Wall of Honor are reminders of whose shoulders we stand on. Many of our community’s trailblazers, pioneers, heroes, here are honored. Every year, we now gather together and honor these true American patriots. Many of whom have been subjected to scorn, hate, discrimination, and violence because they are gay, lesbian, bi or transgender, or people of color.”
Ramirez compared the gathering to a family reunion, coming together to celebrate “who we are” and those that highly contribute to this nation we live in.
“We in the GLBT community are blessed with two families,” Ramirez continued. “One that we were born into, and another that we have chosen. Now, one of our family members is under attack in an ongoing campaign to erase their existence. Let today be the day that all of us hear the battle cry and answer the battle call to defend and stand up for our transgender sisters and brothers. And we should all take the treatment and health care of all our veterans a top priority.”
Ramirez named the wall after Benjamin and Bridget Wilson because they have been fighters and champions for the San Diego community and its veterans for decades. He also established the Ben F. Dillingham, III LGBT Leadership Award last year with the first recipients being Bridget Wilson and Dr. Delores Jacobs, The Center’s former CEO who provided him with her full support for the establishment of the Wall of Honor. This year’s Leadership Award was awarded to Morgan M. Hurley, Wall of Honor Advisory Council chair and former editor of Gay San Diego.
“Tonight, I’m honoring the third Leadership Award to a proud veteran who has not only championed this wall but has been a strong advocate and educator through her writings about GLBT matters in the community,” Ramirez said.
Hurley said that she was honored and surprised to receive this distinction, and then continued with a special recognition for the evening before the 2018 induction.
“I would like to introduce you to a very special inspirational couple, Brian and Matthew Alvarado,” Hurley said. “By the time of the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ in September of 2011, Petty Officer Andy [Matthew] Alvarez had already served 12 years in silence under this policy.”
Shortly after his marriage, Brian Alvarado served on the Family Readiness Group with Amphibious Construction Battalion ONE, moving on to the Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Center in Point Loma as command ombudsman. Both of these roles are normally given to a military wife, Hurley said.
“In that role, Brian used his own entrepreneurial experience to assist other spouses to get jobs or expand in their own careers and has worked really hard to make changes to the family military programs to this day,” Hurley continued. “I’m pleased to share with you all that last May, after three phases of voting and thousands and thousands of nominees, just seven years after the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ Brian Alvarado was selected the 2018 Armed Forces Insurance U.S. Navy Military Spouse of the Year.”
Rep. Scott Peters attended the ceremony and said it was unbelievable to see the local support that came out to celebrate the San Diegan inductees.
“This year’s honorees are some of the best in the San Diego community,” Peters said. “They decided to step up and serve our country in the face of adversity of what others don’t understand. It’s hard to believe in the 21st century that brave, qualified Americans would be turned away from service. And once again, we are in a bad time when it comes to LGBT rights, especially those in the transgender community. This administration’s attempt to block transgender individuals from serving in the military is just one example of the backward rhetoric that has consumed our country.”
—Albert Fulcher can be reached at email@example.com.