Happy 66th Birthday
(b. March 24, 1943)
The highest-ranking official in the United States military to acknowledge her homosexuality while in the service, Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer successfully challenged the military's policy banning homosexuals prior to the implementation of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." She served a number of years in the Washington State National Guard as an open lesbian.. . . In 1961, to help pay for her education, she joined the U.S. Army and signed up for the Army Student Nurse Program. She received her B. S. in Nursing from the University of Maryland in 1963.
After college, Cammermeyer reported for active duty and completed basic training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, following which she spent an additional six months at Martin Army Hospital at Fort Benning, Georgia. Once trained, she was stationed in Nuremburg, Germany.
[Later, her distinguished career as an Army Nurse took her to a tour in Vietnam. Along the way, she married while in service, and "retired" when she had children. She returned to service after divorcing and after the military ended the policy of prohibiting mothers from serving. She served during the 1980s as a command nurse in the National Guard in several states, rising though the ranks.]
In 1987 Cammermeyer was promoted to the rank of Colonel. In 1988 she became the Chief Nurse for the Washington State National Guard. She also returned to graduate school at the University of Washington to complete her Ph.D. in nursing.
In 1989 a routine interview for a security clearance prompted her to respond to a question about homosexuality by saying, "I am a lesbian." In the past year, a developing relationship with a woman named Diane, who is now her life-partner, helped her fully accept her sexual orientation.
Unaware of the precise policy regarding gays and lesbians in the military, Cammermeyer answered honestly. In so doing, she inadvertently set in motion an investigation and discharge proceedings.
The investigation moved slowly, and during this time, Cammermeyer continued to serve, with many of her colleagues and commanders fully aware of her sexual orientation. The administrative discharge hearing did not occur until June 11, 1992, when she was honorably discharged from the military, in spite of the board's recognition that she was "one of the great Americans."
Cammermeyer and her attorney filed suit in civil court challenging the decision. In June 1994, Judge Thomas Zilly of the Federal District Court in Seattle ruled the policy banning gays and lesbians from the military unconstitutional and ordered Cammermeyer's reinstatement.
Pentagon officials appealed the ruling and requested a stay of the decision, initially blocking Cammermeyer's return to uniform. Ultimately Judge Zilly and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied these requests, and Cammermeyer returned to her position in the National Guard. In March 1997, she retired with full military privileges after thirty-one years of service in the U.S. military.
In 1994, Cammermeyer published her autobiography, Serving in Silence, which was well received. Subsequently, it was made into a television movie starring Glenn Close. The movie won three Emmy awards.
Since retirement, Cammermeyer has remained busy. She ran for Congress in the Second Congressional District in Washington State. Even though she lost the election, her spirit of public service remained active. For two years she hosted an internet talk show. She recently returned to law school.