By Zoe Dunning
Iâ€™m excited to write this new column for the Bay Times. I plan to use it to profile ordinary men and women who, while facing long odds or a daunting challenge, have demonstrated the Courage to Lead.
Many know of me as an advocate for the repeal of Donâ€™t Ask, Donâ€™t Tell (DADT). After working on the issue for eighteen years, I was proud to stand next to President Obama in 2010 when he signed the Repeal Act.
Now that DADT is gone, there is still much work to be done for our LGBT men and women serving our country. Those who were forced out need their discharge paperwork upgraded. We must still fight for transgender service. And although we have open service for gays and lesbians, we do not have equal service. Legally married same-sex spouses of military personnel are denied the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts - survivor benefits, base housing and health care benefits to name a few. Which leads me to my first profile, that of Air Force National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan.
In 2008, Charlie was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy and several rounds of chemotherapy. In 2010 - declared cancer free by her oncologist - she was deployed to Kuwait for one year. Tragically, she learned this past September her cancer has returned - now metastatic and incurable.
Her wife Karen is not eligible to receive any survivorâ€™s benefits, social security benefits or health insurance coverage. Karen is a stay-at-home mom, taking care of their 4-year old daughter. She does not have health insurance â€“ the policies available are too expensive for their family to afford.
Charlie is a fighter, and she decided to tell her very personal story in order to try and make a difference. She and her wife are now plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and three additional federal statutes that prevent the military from providing equal benefits, recognition and support to same-sex spouses. Earlier this year she met with Speaker John Boehner to ask him to drop his legal defense of DOMA. In Chief Warrant Officer Morganâ€™s own words:
â€śI would like the Speaker to know, as a member of the Active Guard, that I laid my life on the line for my country. Now I need my country to protect and take care of my family. My wife and daughter face an uncertain future, unable to receive the same family support and services as our counterparts who render the same service, take the same risks, and make the same sacrifices. Time is of the essence.â€ť
Charlieâ€™s story will certainly help make a difference in securing equal benefits for all military families, by highlighting the inequities faced by her family. I am deeply grateful for her leadership and her courage on behalf of our community. Bravo Zulu, Chief!
If you know an unsung hero who has shown the Courage to Lead, please contact me at email@example.com so I can share their story.