By Mark Turney, VMC Public Affairs OfficeJune 22, 2017
CASERMA EDERLE, Italy -- For the first time, U.S. Army Garrison Italy celebrated the LGBT community by inviting Stuart Milk, a globally renowned civil rights activist and nephew of civil rights icon Harvey Milk, to speak on Caserma Ederle.
Six years have passed since the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, established by the Clinton Administration in 1994, was repealed. DADT prohibited military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual or bisexual service members or applicants, while barring openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons from military service. President Barrack Obama signed into law a repeal of the policy Dec. 22, 2010. The new law allowed for openly gay, bisexual and lesbian service members to join and actively serve in the Armed Forces of the United States.
In July 2016, then Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced the repeal of a ban allowing transgendered persons to also serve.
Since January 2016, a directive by U.S. Army leadership authorized commanders to conduct commemorative activities celebrating Gay Pride, a festival traditionally held in June which recalls the "Stonewall Riots" held in New York City in 1969. This directive would celebrate the LGBT community as February celebrates African American/Black history or March celebrates women's history.
It was a hot, standing-room-only crowd that gathered at the Hall of Heroes June 7 to hear Milk speak. More than 100 men, women, Soldiers, parents and children filled the room to listen to Milk's talk on LGBT rights, a few personal stories of his, and to answer questions from the community.
Milk spoke for well over an hour, seamlessly weaving stories of the civil and gay rights movements together with stories of his uncle Harvey Milk. While the stories and players changed, a consistent message ran throughout each. The theme was that of inclusiveness, togetherness and that it's okay to be different.
In his closing story, before opening the floor to questions, Milk spoke about attending the United Nations Decade for Women ceremony, held in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1985. To open the conference the U.N. had invited an Australian Aboriginal woman named Lilla Watson. She was short and barely could reach over the top of the speaker's podium, Milk said, but what she said had a profound effect on his life and the role activism would play in it.
Speaking to a room of delegates, Milk recounted, she stood proudly and said, "If you are here to help women, people of color or people of different ethnicities, go home. You are wasting your time. However, if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."
Watson, an activist, academic and artist, has been often quoted to say this quote was a "collective belief" born from the activist groups she was a part of which, simply stated, means we are all in this world together so this is actually an exercise in self-preservation.
Milk closed his presentation with the following: "So to those of you who are serving openly as LGBT, who are living your lives proud and authentic; to those of you who are supporting those that do, you are the manifestation of history. I thank you all for that."