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Page 13
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<< 12. Veterans Organizing Conference, New York City14. A Call to Law Down Arms and Recognize Our Common Humanity >>

Vets for Equal Rights

By Danny Ingram

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I was talking to my friend Michael Burke during the recent holidays about an amazing experience I had at a veterans' conference last fall. Mike is a member of VVAW and thought my story was worth sharing. He asked me to share the story with you, so now that I am homebound amidst the Great Atlanta Ice Storm of 2014, I decided to write it up.

I am the former national president of a gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender veterans service organization. Last September we held our national convention in Denver. It is always a special experience to get together with other vets and share stories and experiences. As with most conventions, some of the most important work took place outside the conference room.

A bunch of us guys were sitting around in the hospitality suite, having some drinks and shootin' the shit as vets do so well. Most of the guys in the room that night were local, and they knew each other. The exploits were getting bigger and the tales more outrageous. Out of nowhere one of the guys jumped in with a horrific story of what happened to him in Iraq. A massive explosion. Incredible injuries, and terrible suffering. Years of recovery. Permanent disability. The room was silent. Most of the guys in the room knew this former soldier, but they had never heard his story before. They were amazed.

That young vet experienced the incredible power of healing by finally telling his story. He had not shared it before, even with his friends, even fellow vets.

What happened in that hotel room in Denver was that we created a safe space, a space where he could share that story, a space where he felt safe finally sharing his fragmenting pain. It was a powerful experience for all of us. I left that room changed. I had been a part of someone else's healing. I helped make that space for him.

We are healing to each other. We make the spaces necessary for that healing to take place, when we get together and share our stories. When we listen. That experience was the highlight of my convention. I experienced healing myself. I left that conference more whole than when I arrived. It is a simple thing to sit and listen to another veteran tell his or her story. But it can be the most powerful thing we ever do for another person.

In this age of technology where we can always be somewhere else, distracted by the ubiquitous electronic device in our hand, we should never lose the profound importance of being human with another human person. When we are present with another person, we are ourselves most profoundly human. And it is in that space that we become miracles of healing for each other. We both heal. We rediscover our humanity, the vulnerabilities, and the strengths, of who we are.

Gay and lesbian veterans have problems finding this level of safety with other vets who may not accept us or allow us this incredible opportunity to find healing, not only from the injuries of combat, but from the pain of growing up LGBT in a society that teaches us to hate ourselves before we even understand who we are. I challenge VVAW to be this safe space where gay vets can find healing, and if the walls prove too high, send them to us. We will be their home, and their healing.

Thank you for allowing me to share this story. And thank you for all your great work.

Danny Ingram is the immediate Past President for American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER). Visit AVER online at aver.us.

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