Celebrating our LGBTQ Veterans

By Suzanne Deakins, PQ Monthly

Recently I watched a movie about Alan Turning. The British mathematician, who invented computer science and helped to decode Nazi communicate during WWII. The heartbreak of the story is that after having helped to defeat the Nazi regime  (and save an estimated 14 million lives), he was convicted of indecency because of his homosexuality. In this, he lost his security clearance in the military and was dismissed from his professorship. Ultimately he committed suicide.

This scenario is not uncommon to those who have served in the military. We have summarily discharged (separated) many with dishonor because of their sexual preferences and identification. Suicide and disaster are familiar to this group of individuals who have served our country. A less-than-honorable discharge leaves veterans without many of the services they should have, it also leaves a sense of shame and fear of reaching out for help.

Until this past year discharged service personnel did not have an advocate or a way around these inhumane regulations. In 2015 Oregon became the first State to create a position of an LGBTQ Veterans Coordinator.

Meet Nathaniel Boehme, a third generation Air Force LGBTQ veteran himself, still currently serving in the Portland Air National Guard, who has been chosen to build the bridge between veterans who are in our LGBTQ community and the military and veteran services. He is traveling throughout Oregon, speaking and meeting our veterans in our community who have been isolated and fallen under the radar of humanitarian action.

Nathaniel writes about his work:

Oregon is a state made up of a diverse veteran community that spans five eras of service and four generations. And now to better serve you, the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Veteran Coordinator office is available to answer your questions and assist with a variety of services.

My position has been created to assist members of the LGBTQ community in Oregon who served in our nation’s military with a variety of things up to and including:

  1. Correction of military records:

    1. Discharge upgrades for veterans separated under the auspices of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT);
    2. Official name changes on DD214 and VA health records;
    3. Removing DADT-related language from military discharge records
  2. Assistance with veteran services and benefits (VA and other) for Oregonians who may be leery to connect with mainstream veteran-serving organizations:

    1. VA health care.
    2.  Service-connected compensation
    3. Pension
    4. Home loans
    5.  Homelessness services
    6.  Liaison between veteran and LGBTQ-serving organizations;
  3. Promotion and support in creating a community and culture of inclusion for ALL veterans – regardless of sexuality or gender identity

  4. Creation and sustainment of LGBTQ veteran events, speaking engagements, email list, and more in the State of Oregon

  5. Advocacy for legislative changes in Oregon to better serve our LGBTQ community (veterans and non-veterans alike)

Here’s a little background on Nathaniel:

I am an OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) veteran, third generation Air Force, still serving in the Oregon Air National Guard, and I identify as a cisgender gay man.  I have been working with veterans and their families in crisis, specifically experiencing housing instability, for over four years in Portland, Seattle, and most recently Los Angeles.  I hold two bachelor’s degrees (Sociology and Psychology) with a minor in Women and Gender Studies from Utah State University, as well as an M.A. in Sociology from Washington State University.  I am currently working on a Master’s in Social Work at Portland State University.  My partner and I are very excited to be back in Oregon, and I look forward to serving my fellow veterans and the LGBTQ community.

 Partnerships with multiple stakeholders are critical to involvement and success with the veteran and LGBTQ-serving community. I’m offering my services to attend any regularly scheduled events or meetings; I’m happy to present and/or answer questions. 

 If you identify as LGTBQ and have ever served in the U.S. military, please consider helping Nathaniel assess the needs of the LGBTQ community by completing the survey found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/5PQTD7X .  All your responses are confidential, and your feedback is highly encouraged and valued.  If you wish to connect with Nathaniel for any reason, you can contact him at nathaniel.boehme@state.or.us, or there is also a general delivery email at LGBTQVets@odva.state.or.us