During a security interview in 1989, Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer revealed that she was a lesbian. Her disclosure sparked a series of events that ultimately ended the ban on gays in the military.
Cammermeyer, who started as an Army nurse in 1963, served in Vietnam, and received the Bronze Star. Returning stateside in 1968, she and her then husband, a fellow soldier, had the first of their four sons. “At that time, if you wanted to have a family, [the policy was] you left the Army,” she says. But Cammermeyer wasn’t ready to end her military career just yet. So when the policy changed, she joined the Army Reserve in 1972, ultimately achieving the rank of colonel. While raising her family, serving in the reserves and working in the VA health care system, Cammermeyer earned a master’s degree in nursing at the UW in 1976 and her Ph.D. in 1991.
In 1988, she became the chief nurse for the Washington National Guard. Forced to resign after she revealed her sexual orientation, she was the highest-ranking member of the military ever to be discharged on that basis. Cammermeyer argued that the ban was based on prejudice and thus was a violation of the Constitution. “Any rule, any regulation like that, somebody has to challenge it,” she says. She not only won, but she went on to campaign against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
At a November 11 reception on campus, the University of Washington and the UWAA honored Cammermeyer as the 2015 recipient of the annual Distinguished Alumni Veteran Award. Congratulations, Grethe.