On the very worth-listening-to Ep 004 of Mass for Shut-ins I had the distinct pleasure of talking with SSgt. Katie Schmid, US Army, who is one of the plaintiffs challenging the transgender military ban in court. My usual Memorial Day post is to pick an individual at random from the list of people killed in action in the previous year, but that conversation has me thinking differently this year.
Throughout American history the military has been our default social safety net, a strings-attached government promise of food, clothing, and housing in exchange for service ranging from the mundane in peacetime to risking one's life in war or dangerous non-combat duty. As such, the military unwittingly found itself in the position of being a melting pot and a cross-section of American diversity despite its numerous institutional attempts to resist it. As far back as the Revolutionary War it found itself having to integrate immigrants, African-Americans, non-English speakers, people of different religions, LGBTQ people, and people who otherwise were defined as being outside of the mainstream at their moment in history.
Usually the reaction, led by civilians in Congress and the White House, was to attempt to enforce uniformity and to beat (literally and figuratively) the differences out of people. When that was impossible, rigid artificial barriers were erected to keep people in separate containers. So, this Memorial Day let's remember everyone who was told that they were somehow inferior despite presenting themselves, by choice or by obligation, for service. Let's remember the Port Chicago Fifty, the people who challenged illegal orders, everyone turned away by a recruiter because of gender or race, and the nameless thousands of people who had to serve with "a secret" or while hiding, burying, and lying about some part of themselves.
Glory, duty, and obligation are the most obvious parts of serving. Some people do all that while fighting other, more personal battles as well.