By RJ Beaumia
ANN ARBOR – Last Friday night the Washtenaw Rainbow Action Project paid tribute to those whose outstanding public service to the greater community has included a commitment to the cause of LGBT civil rights.
WRAP hosted the third annual Evening of Recognition and Remembrance at the Kerrytown Market & Shops in Ann Arbor to honor Rep. John Dingell (D) of Michigan’s 15th District, Chief Dan Oates of the Ann Arbor Police Department, Col. Amy Courter of the Servicemebers Legal Defense Network, and all members of the U.S. armed services who have been affected by the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
A video tribute introducing Dingell was presented featuring U.S. Senator Carl Levin (D). Levin said that Dingell “wielded power on behalf of those who are powerless.” He added that Dingell shows “intense desire and will by serving people well, especially those who need it most.”
Dingell, who will celebrate 50 years in the U.S. House of Representatives in December, has a history of helping enact legislation favoring strong oversight of corporate polluters, and he has championed the causes of organized labor and civil rights.
“One of the tests of a community is how it feels and how it cares,” Dingell said.
Dingell is currently co-sponsoring a bill, H.R. 1059, to repeal the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy barring homosexuals from the U.S. military.
“I’m slow,” Dingell said of the way he chooses his battles in the House. “I want to make sure I’m right.” He said of H.R. 1059, “This bill is right morally; it’s something I’m comfortable with.”
He told the crowd, “I appreciate your friendship.”
Also honored was retiring Ann Arbor Police Department Chief Daniel Oates. He was appointed chief of the AAPD in 2001, having come from the New York Police Department where he served for 21 years in Brooklyn.
LGBT community activist Jim Toy remembered that there were times before Chief Oates came to the AAPD that the department was sometimes “slow to help” when gays needed the help of law enforcement, and that Oates changed that.
Chief Oates said that he was grateful for the local LGBT community’s “advice, support, and friendship.”
Oates thanked WRAP for their assistance in helping him and the AAPD better understand and serve the gay community. “They’ve listened to me vent, they’ve given me advice… and it’s very nice to be honored tonight. I’ll remember this,” he said.
Also honored was Col. Amy Courter, board co-chair of the SLDN, which is the nation’s only legal aid and advocacy organization for service members affected by “don’t ask, don’t tell.” A resident of South Lyon, Michigan, Courter was recognized for her SLDN work.
Courter is currently helping work on the SLDN’s lawsuit against the Pentagon’s anti-gay policies, Cook vs. Rumsfeld, and is lobbying congress to pass H.R 1059.
Two other speakers affected by the Pentagon’s policy accompanied Courter, P-Flag parent Kathleen Boyd and former Navy member Denise Brogan.
Boyd read a letter from her daughter who was thrown out of the ROTC when she came out as a lesbian, and is being forced to pay back to the U.S. military the $30,000 that it took to train her. Brogan spoke of her experiences as a transgender woman and Vietnam veteran.
WRAP awarded plaques to Dingell, Oates, and Courter.
At the ceremony there were musical tributes from Jim Toy, accompanied on piano by Kathy West, as well as male vocal group Desperate Measures and the Noah Kramer Trio.
Catering was provided by Katherine’s Catering followed by dessert pastries from Ivan Brown. Wine was served compliments of Everyday Wines and the autbar.