Rehoboth Beach Hosts First "Gay Military Weekend"
Stifling heat did little to deter the spirits of the estimated 100 gay and lesbian veterans and active duty members of the military who gathered in Rehoboth Beach, Del., on Saturday, July 23, and Sunday, July 24, for a weekend of relaxation.
Organized by Servicemembers United, the gathering was billed as the first "Gay Military Weekend in Rehoboth." Local businesses showed their support by providing discounts to the participants and hosting special events.
There was also a private fundraising reception hosted by Bob Kabel, the former board chairman of the Log Cabin Republicans, which spearheaded efforts to gain the necessary GOP support on Capitol Hill for the ’don’t ask, don’t tell’ repeal bill.
According to Jarrod Chlapowski, a founding member of Servicemembers United and the organization’s development and outreach director, the turnout and support from the community exceeded expectations.
Part of Servicemembers United’s mission is to "build a support network" for the estimated one million LGBT veterans and active duty military members, according to Chlapowski, a former U.S. Army Korean linguist who opted not to re-enlist in 2005 because of DADT.
Christian Scognamillo of Philadelphia, whose housemate is a former marine, attended the fundraising reception to support Servicemembers United. "Many gay people are defending our country and deserve our respect," he said.
Based on the gathering’s success, Servicemembers United is planning to make it an annual occurrence and is considering holding similar gatherings in other destinations.
The weekend took on special meaning when President Barack Obama officially certified the end of ’don’t ask, don’t tell’ on Friday, July 22. Gays and lesbians can openly serve in the military after the 60-day enactment period ends on Sept. 20. Obama’s certification was a requirement of the DADT repeal bill that the president signed into law in December.
Beginning in 2005, Servicemembers United was one of the groups that actively sought the repeal of DADT and provided a platform through which the troops and veterans who were actually affected by the Clinton-era law could join the repeal movement in a substantive way.
"We had full confidence the certification would happen," said Chlapowski.
Chlapowski and Alexander Nicholson, founder of Servicemembers United and its director, both believe that LGBT veterans and active duty servicemembers will continue to face discrimination and that the next few years will prove an important precedence-setting period. They also raised concerned about the future of partner rights and the ongoing need to improve the general life and well-being of LGBT military members.
"We are going to be the watchdogs," said Chlapowski.
Log onto www.servicemembersunited.org for more information.