Tom Loewy: Time to step up, stand up for rights

From The Register-Mail:
Part of Shirlee’s story is well known. She is a mother who lost her son, Rex, to complications caused by AIDS in May 1997. Since that time, she’s been active raising awareness and money for various HIV/AIDS support groups. The latest effort to which she lent her name, considerable time and unending effort was September’s AIDS Walk Galesburg, which raised over $10,000.

The latest flare from the long-burning controversy over excluding openly gay people from the military sparked Shirlee’s memory.

“Rex went into the ROTC at Knox (College),” she said. “He was like a lot of other middle class kids at the time who saw the military as a path to opportunities.

“The ROTC offered tuition abatement and I think Rex really enjoyed the physical training and the discipline. He liked the military and he hoped that it could help him start a career in medicine.”

Rex graduated from Knox in 1986 and became a U.S. Army Reservist. He was discharged with cause in 1987. Shirlee said it was then Rex realized the perception of his behavior — more than the fact that he was sick — set him apart from others.

“It occurs to me now that if Rex had been fine and continued his military career, he would have had to hide who he was,” Shirlee said. “People might not realize what that means. It’s not an issue of sex — that’s private. It’s an issue of being able to live openly, the way heterosexuals take for granted.”

Like all civil rights, the right of homosexuals to attempt to serve in the military should be a given. It is anathema to think men of color were once barred from serving their country. Or women.

Perhaps one day soon, all Americans will finally be granted what has been rightfully theirs all along. The U.S. military — despite past advertising campaigns — has never been an army of one.