Margarethe Cammermeyer breaks the military silence
Born to parents who resisted the Nazi occupation, Margarethe Cammermeyer would later become a nurse and a soldier in the US military.
However, despite a military code of obedience and discipline, Cammermeyer spoke out against the discrimination that made LGBT people serving in the US military invisible.
Margarethe Cammermeyer’s military career
Margarethe “Grethe” Cammermeyer was born in Oslo, Norway on March 24, 1942. She migrated to the US where she became a citizen in 1960.
In 1961, she joined the Army Nurse Corps as a student and received a B.S. in Nursing in 1963 from the University of Maryland.
She earned a master’s degree in 1976 at the University of Washington School of Nursing, climbed to the rank of colonel in 1987, and attained a Ph.D. in 1991.
In 1988, she eventually met the woman who would be her wife, Diane Divelbess, despite having a 15-year marriage to a fellow soldier and four sons.
Margarethe Cammermeyer’s admission & the cost
Cammermeyer stepped into the spotlight when, despite being a decorated soldier, she was given an honorable discharge on June 11, 1992.
This came following her admission that she was a lesbian during a routine security clearance interview in 1989.
Though this dashed her dream of becoming a Chief Nurse of the National Army Guard, it started her on the road of legal disputes as she filed a lawsuit against the decision in civil court.
This paid off in June 1994, when Judge Thomas Zilly of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington ruled that her discharge and the ban on homosexuals serving in the military were unconstitutional.
Cammermeyer was allowed to return to the National Guard in 1994, where she was one of the few openly lesbian people in the US military while the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy was in effect.
The DADT policy allowed gay, lesbian, and bisexual people to serve as long as they did not reveal their sexual orientation.
Her experience was later turned into a book, an autobiography Serving in Silence in 1994, and then a television movie of the same name in 1995 with Glenn Close in the starring role.
Margarethe Cammermeyer: After the military
Cammermeyer retired from the military in 1997 and ran for Congress in Washington’s 2nd congressional district in 1998. Although she won the Democratic primary, she lost in the general election.
In 2012, after same-sex marriage was legalized in the Washington state, Cammermeyer and Divelbess became the first same-sex couple to get a license in Island County, Washington.
This was not the first time they married. Their marriage license in Oregon, Portland was nullified in 2004, along with similar marriages.
For Cammermeyer, the feeling of having their love legalized was indescribable as both of them encountered difficulties with getting their families to accept them.
“You realize when you go through it, it’s much more than a piece of paper,” she said.
Margarethe Cammermeyer & the DADT policy
Despite retiring from the military, she publicly fought on the front lines against the controversial DADT policy and issues concerning gay rights.
At times, she wore her uniform and marched with American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER) while carrying the American flag in pride parades.
Finally, in December 2010, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010.”
Afterwards, restrictions on service by gay, lesbian, and bisexual personnel ended as of September 20, 2011 and the US military no longer excludes gay men, bisexuals, and lesbians from service.
Moreover, transgender people are also allowed to openly serve since June 30, 2016.
“I would rather lose my uniform than lose my integrity,” Cammermeyer declared proudly.