I would like to thank my friend, state Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-8th), for supporting gay marriage and not equivocating before the vote.

Removing discrimination is important in ways that aren’t obvious.

On Oct. 27, 1992, I was the command duty officer on the USS St. Louis in Sasebo, Japan. A sailor, Petty Officer Third Class Allen Schindler of Chicago Heights, was killed in the park outside the main gate of the base. Base authorities directed me to inspect sailors for blood on their clothing as they returned from liberty because it was unclear if all the perpetrators had been apprehended. (All involved in the incident were part of the crew of USS Belleau Wood.)

Later it came out that Terry Helvey killed Schindler because he was gay.

It had never occurred to me that people got killed for being gay although it was the first idea that came to mind for my roommate from Texas A&M.

I had always favored gays being able to serve in the military. It seemed like obvious discrimination to have it otherwise. And my understanding of what it meant to be American, based on growing up in Oak Park, was that we don’t discriminate against people arbitrarily anymore, not as government policy. The Civil Rights Movement settled that point.

For me, another point about Schindler’s murder was obvious. The Navy’s policy of discriminating against gays and lesbians told Helvey it was OK to be prejudiced against gays and that being gay was the problem. The way I saw it, people who either couldn’t work with gays or felt the need to commit violence against gays were the ones with the problem.

The bans on gays emboldened the bigots to justify their prejudices. The military was saying it was normal for straight guys to want to perpetrate violence against gays, and the military was powerless to control this urge.

I felt it was my duty to say no, discrimination is wrong. I firmly believe that if gays were allowed to openly serve in the military in 1992, Airman Apprentice Terry Helvey would not have responded to Schindler with lethal force no matter how clumsily Schindler might have approached him for sex.

Gay marriage is important because it is one of the remaining obstacles to saying clearly that gay citizens are full citizens and entitled to equal protection under the law. Being gay is not a problem. Having gay sex is not a problem. People who have prejudices against gays and lesbians and then discriminate or perpetrate violence … these are the people with the problem.

And while the people who are bigoted against gays will complain, passing gay marriage is good for them too. Terry Helvey wouldn’t have killed Schindler in today’s military. He wouldn’t have felt authorized to respond that way. And his life would have turned out better if he didn’t start adulthood with a murder conviction and a life sentence.

And while this letter congratulates one legislator for voting the right way, it’s probably more appropriate to thank the LGBT community for all the work they’ve done since Stonewall to build America into a more perfect union, one piece of activism at a time.

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