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VIDEO: The Center unveils LGBT Veterans Wall of Honor

SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego LGBT Community Center unveiled Thursday evening what is believed to be the first wall of honor dedicated to LGBT veterans.

A crowd of nearly 100 people, including veterans, active duty servicemembers, elected officials, community leaders and others, attended the catered affair in The Center’s auditorium.

The Benjamin F. Dillingham III & Bridget Wilson LGBT Veterans Wall of Honor is located on wall panel on the northwest corner of the auditorium, adjacent to the room’s entrance. It bears the seals of the five branches of service and a plaque that reads “Freedom to Serve - September 20, 2011” to commemorate the date of the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" repeal.

The wall was created to mark an end to the discriminatory DADT policy and allows the community to honor the many local servicemembers who have served their country during the DADT era, while expressing the hope that soon our transgender community members will be included as well.

After the singing of the national anthem by Ria Carey, Dr. Delores Jacobs introduced a lineup of speakers who spoke to the crowd about the significance of the wall.

Bridget Wilson, who is a veteran and longtime leader in the local LGBT community, said she is “absolutely honored” to have the wall named after her and spoke to the crowd about the long struggle to repeal DADT, while looking forward to the future of LGBT people serving in the military.

“Most of us in this room are veterans and now we have the duty to be out veterans and to be advocates for our servicemembers and veterans in an entirely different way,” Wilson said.

“It’s not that we don’t need our LGBT organizations - groups like American Veterans for Equal Rights, OutServe, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network - all of those people are necessary to protect our people in uniform and help them get the benefits that their straight colleagues are entitled to that they are not.”

Wilson continued saying that there are essentially three things that need to be done post-DADT.

“We need to get out of the way because now our servicemembers can speak for themselves,” Wilson said.

She also said that the LGBT community needs to secure a place at the table at veterans organizations such as the VFW; and that the community must be the stewards of its own history.

“It is our history and no one else will tell it,” Wilson said. “We must preserve the memory of those who sacrificed.”

Veteran Ben Gomez, who is co-chair of the LGBT Veterans Wall of Honor committee, said that a clear set of criteria has been developed for selecting those whose names will be added to the wall.

Nominations will be accepted by his committee, which will require documentation. Gomez noted that all nominees should have received an honorable discharge from the services, however special consideration will be given to those who may have been discharged for being LGBT.

The committee will consist of five veterans and four active duty service members and is currently looking for members.

Gomez announced that the first four inductees to the wall include Dillingham and Wilson, along with local veterans Jeri Dilno and Jim Woodward.

San Diego LGBT Pride organized a group of veterans who marched in the San Diego Veterans Day Parade on Friday.

For more information about the LGBT Veterans Wall of Honor, contact Denise Serrano at (619) 692-2077 or dserrano@thecentersd.org.