The University Record, April 17, 1995

Serving in Silence’s author addresses standing-room-only audience

Serving in Silence's author addresses standing-room-only audience

By Cecelia M. Childs
Record Special Writer

Before a standing-room-only crowd in Rackham Auditorium in late March, Col. Margrethe Cammermeyer received roaring rounds of applause as she sensitively and humorously took her audience on a historical review of the military with respect to prejudice against homosexuals, women and Blacks.

In a presentation titled "Serving in Silence: Perpetuating Military Prejudice--A Prototype of American Society," Cammermeyer also reviewed events leading to her discharge from the U.S. Army.

Cammermeyer, a lesbian, is the highest ranking officer separated from the military because of sexual orientation. The title of her talk was taken from her autobiography, Serving in Silence, published in 1994 and also the title of a television movie about her that aired earlier this year.

Cammermeyer served 26 years in the military and at the time of her discharge was the chief nurse of the Washington State National Guard.

Cammermeyer said that at the Army hearing on her sexual orientation, the stance of the board was clear, that Army regulations prevent homosexuals from serving in the military and further, with her admission of being a lesbian, she would be stripped of her rank. The discharge, however, would be honorable.

At a press conference following the hearing, Cammermeyer said the "ban is unconstitutional. An officer and a human being should not be forced to lie."

In June 1994, the U.S. Federal District Court ruled that the government had violated her rights under due process and equal protection and ordered her reinstatement, which the Justice Department immediately appealed.

Cammermeyer chose to not proceed with a promotion to general, but rather to step forward and stand against prejudice, in hopes she may make a change.

As she commanded the Nursing Corps, her stage presence also commanded the audience. With all six feet of her stature, she stood to the right of the podium when she spoke seriously, and announced she would stand at the left when speaking sarcastically. During a slide presentation, the focus on the screen was blurred. When she came to the slide of her wedding picture, she cajoled, "You don't have to focus on this picture."

In a playful reference to Barbara Striesand and Glenn Close, she remarked: "I wanted to give up my involvement in the movie when Glenn Close arrived with her Army uniform on, posing like a model with one leg out."

Those carrying the rank of general are members of a rather exclusive group, with only 325 in the U.S. Army. Forty-four colonels are in various stages of promotion to general.

Cammermeyer will not hear "Ruffles and Flourishes" or the "General's March" on Sept. 16. The final salute as she retires will be rendered with "Present Arms" at her change of command.