When the Founding Colonizers established the United States Military in 1789, it was a time of patriotism like no other. Slavery and racism abounded. The hegemony cemented its firm grip on American society. It was America.
To be sure, those same racist cisgender heteronormative white men that built this country on the backs of those that originally owned the land would roll in their graves to see today, 2018, a time when black people are free from subjugation, kneeling/sitting during the pledge, and are actively serving in our country’s military.
Even more surprising would be the realization that Black queer/trans folx would someday be the strongest backbone of the United States of America’s military might.
Alan G. Rogers was born in 1967. Spending a majority of his formative years in the state of Florida, Alan became ordained as a minister (before graduating high school!) in 1985 in Lincoln City, FL. After serving time in both JROTC at Bradford County High School and ROTC at the University of Florida (from which he graduated in 1995 with a Bachelors of Arts degree in religious studies), he enlisted to the U.S. Army. During his first years in the army, he was a commander for a South Korean military intelligence base. After his time in South Korea, he went on to earn a Master’s degree in Public Policy from Georgetown University in 2005, doing so well there that he earned opportunities to work at the Pentagon with the secretary of defense. Sadly, he was killed by a bomb in 2008 after being deployed to Iraq. He was buried with full military honors at the Arlington National Cemetary in 2008, with his funeral receiving a huge amount of media coverage.
Now, there have been many queer and trans servicepeople of color who have served over the years, both before and after Alan’s time. Why is his story so vital to our narrative?
Many have heard about the military’s past policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, but few knew the true nature of the destruction it caused to the LGBTQ+ community. On the surface, DADT seemed to protect queer soldiers from being discriminated against when applying to be part of the military, but the one condition for their protection was utter silence; the directive ostracized people who “demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts” on the basis that such people would allegedly be a distraction and a poor reflection of the American military spirit. Queer soldiers were literally forbidden from disclosing their sexual identity, lest they lose their position and rank in the military, risking dishonorable discharge.
Major Rogers was the first to tackle the military’s crippling policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, implemented by none other than the Clinton Administration in 1994 in the form of Department of Defense Directive 1304.26, which lasted from 1993 to 2011. He first addressed the horrific law in his Master’s thesis in 2005, during his time at Georgetown:
“Today’s current policy on gays in the military seems to rest on many faulty assumptions – namely that homosexuals will jeopardize unit cohesiveness. My research has been unable to justify that position and has found that the opposite is more true. Denying service members the right to serve freely and openly violates basic dignity and respect of the human experience and puts our national security at risk.”
His work to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell continued up until his deployment and untimely death. Even then, there were efforts made to censure the mass media coverage that ensued upon the report of his murder, moves made to make sure that the public did not know he was openly gay. However, the strength of his legacy endured and, because of his bravery, and the bravery of many other queer soldiers who were brave enough to stand in the gap, the law was finally repealed.
It is now 2018, and once again we face the coming of another Memorial Day. In light of the military’s exclusionary politics towards people of trans experience (and the lingering social stigma attached to openly queer soldiers, left over from DADT’s devastating impact), it is not a day that many people in our community see as reverent.
Yet, Alan G. Rogers did.
He knew that, in order to become a soldier and defend the country he loved, he would have to sacrifice his own happiness (he couldn’t marry because of the act). He knew that he would go to war and quite possibly die for a country that would have rejoiced to see another black gay man disappear from the fabric of the pristine white cishet society. And yet, while knowing all of these things, he was determined to make a difference.
Maybe Memorial Day may not be any more to some of you than a day off from school and work. And, quite frankly, feelings of animosity towards the military because of how things are can be considered rational. However, we must remember and uplift our queer and trans servicepeople out there who are willing to risk their own lives for us, despite the cost to them. And we owe it to those brave soldiers to fight on behalf of them on the homefront in any way we can, through impacting legislation and fighting the corrosive prejudice that seeps beneath the surface of American nationalism.
And so, we remember and honor Major Roger’s legacy forever for his sacrifice.
And so, in the spirit of Major Roger’s legacy, we give our most sincere gratitude to our black queer and trans soldiers out there.
On this Memorial Day, be a bit more like Alan. Remember that you were born with a special purpose: to change the world.
You can read Major Roger’s thesis on the analysis of the DADT directive here: https://web.archive.org/web/20121025202305/http://home.comcast.net/~rpilaud/DADT%20Policy%20Analysis%20Alan%20Rogers.pdf