To the Soldiers, Airmen, and Civilian Employees of the Illinois National Guard and Department of Military Affairs:
Diversity brings strength. We want to draw as much as we can from the talents of all our service members and civilians. Inclusiveness and the act of including others into the team, no matter their race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation strengthens our organization and the nation.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Pride and 10 years since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Dedicated LGBTQ+ Soldiers, Airmen, and civilians have long served in the military and in the Illinois National Guard, but both policy and prejudice robbed them of the dignity and respect we all deserve no matter how we identify.
Pride means different things to different people. For those of us in uniform, we often talk about pride in our service, pride in the accomplishments of our organizations and pride in those on our right and left. For the Illinois National Guard’s LGBTQ+ Soldiers, Airmen and civilians, Pride carries an extra meaning: it is a celebration of progress, and progress still to come.
It was almost 100 years ago that the first gay rights organization was formed. Henry Gerber, an Army veteran who served in France during World War I, returned to Illinois and founded the Society for Human Rights in Chicago, in 1924, laying the groundwork for future organizations within the community. This mission of this organization was:
“[T]o promote and protect the interests of people who … are abused and hindered in the legal pursuit of happiness which is guaranteed them by the Declaration of Independence and to combat the public prejudices against them by dissemination of factors according to modern science among intellectuals of mature age.”
Gerber’s organization was short-lived, but it served as an anchor for the modern movement that Pride celebrates this month.
Pride comes in June to mark the anniversary of one event, the spark in the fire that still burns today. The “Stonewall Inn,” a hangout for members of the LGBTQ+ community, was raided by New York Police on June 28, 1969. Simply existing as an LGBTQ+ person was not legal at the time and protests and violence ensued. Hot on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement gained steam. The first Pride Parade was held in Chicago, the very next year in 1970, and has been held all over the world ever since.
We acknowledge the hard-fought battles for civil rights, those already won and those ongoing. Treating every member of our organization with dignity and respect starts with listening and compassion.