2011 Beneficiary: American Veterans for Equal Rights

American Veterans for Equal Rights is forming a Philadelphia chapter to assist local veterans and activists in fighting the national battle for equitable treatment of LGBT service members and their families.

AVER is a 21 year old national veterans service organization made up primarily of LGBT military veterans.  They have been working to overturn the nearly 100 year old ban against gay service members, and we were one of the first organizations to interact with the Pentagon on a “soldier to soldier” basis, providing answers to many of the military’s questions about LGBT military service from an insider’s perspective, something they could respect and trust much more than lobbyists, researchers, and politicians trying to force something on them for reasons other than creating a more effective military.  Because AVER is a VSO and supports the mission of the military, they were able to turn the argument around and reframe the issue as one of how the ban hurt the military and how the Pentagon, the armed forces in general, and the nation itself would be more secure as a result of removing the ban.  They were successful in helping win over the support of key members of Congress as well as current and former Chairs of the Joint Chiefs.

AVER has been featured on news casts around the world including broadcasts in France, the far east, and the BBC.  As president of AVER I was profiled recently on a CNN Veterans Day special highlighting the diversity of the veterans community, a great honor of a vet who became one of the first service members to be discharged under DADT in 1994 following statements in support of Bill Clinton’s promise to lift the ban.  See the video feature of the national president of AVER, Danny Ingram:

Now that the ban has been lifted AVER is shifting their focus to ensuring that the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is fully implemented, including securing equal benefits for LGBT military personnel and their partners, which involves overturning DOMA.  Additionally, as a VSO they will be working to ensure that all veterans, including LGBT vets, get the full benefits from the Veterans Administration that they have been promised.  This will be an important battle not only for LGBT vets, but for all returning service members who may see a much more conservative political environment take aim at budget reductions by skimping on veterans benefits.  There is also the issue of transgender service, since the repeal of DADT did nothing for transgendered service members.  AVER is working to repeal the ban on transgender service and develop strategies to allow for the integration of trans personnel into the ranks of those whose primary mission is and has always been the defense of the Constitution of the United States of America.

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