Phoenix Veterans Memorial Convocation Address

11 November 2000
Delivered by Franc Gaxiola
President, Arizona Rainbow Veterans

Franc Gaxiola

Franc Gaxiola

Welcome veterans, friends, family and patriots. On behalf of the Arizona Rainbow Veterans, I would like to thank you for joining us on a solemn day of historical significance. Today we are dedicating the first memorial in the history of the United States of America to be donated by a gay and lesbian veterans’ organization.

This memorial will be the first all-inclusive memorial. It stands as a tribute to all of our fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who have succumb to enemies both foreign and domestic. Regardless of sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identification.

To be a member of the United States Armed Forces is a proud challenge to undertake, especially for those of us who were challenged to hide who we are. Gay men and women have always served in the armed forces of every nation’s history. They serve proudly and openly every NATO ally of ours except in our country and Turkey. They serve openly in nations from Australia to Colombia and not once has this affected morale or degenerated the state of readiness of their forces.

The Arizona Rainbow Veterans have stood proudly by the belief that all American citizens should be able to serve their nation. Integrity is a key element of the United States military and forcing their personnel to compromise that by being silent about their identity is an injustice that needs to come to an end. Right now as we speak, there are proud, intelligent and decorated members of the military that are forced to deceive their peers and superiors. They should not have to serve their nation in fear. There is no such thing as special rights for American citizens who want equality and fairness.

For me this memorial symbolizes two people who have affected me and helped push me to ensure this memorial gets placed. In 1992, two weeks after I was stationed in northern Japan, Allen Schindler was beaten to death by his fellow shipmates in southern Japan. There was no cause, no instigation, just a brutal murder of a patriotic American, trying to serve his nation. His death shaped my military career, into a service of fear and uncertainty.

The other person this memorial represents for me is Barry Winchell. In 1999, Private Winchell was bludgeoned with a baseball bat in his sleep by a fellow soldier for the perception of being gay. He too, was a dedicated American, unjustly murdered.

Wally Straughn

Wally Straughn

This memorial for me represents them. A memorial not only for those who have fallen in war, but those who have fallen due to intolerance. The longer the ban is in place, the longer this intolerance will be allowed to thrive. Please join me in a moment of silence to remember these two men and every member of our military, gay or straight, who deserve the recognition of sacrificing their lives for the opportunity to serve our nation proudly.

Again, thank you for being here. Thank you for serving our nation, supporting our troops and believing in equality for every American.

And please join me in a separate thanks for a man who did 90% of the work for this memorial and gives himself only 10% of the recognition. We would not be here and I would not be here, if not for Wally Straughn. He has made me proud to say that I am a veteran, a Gay Veteran, of the United States Armed Forces.