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Gay activist to headline Utah congressional candidate's fundraiser

Published August 16, 2014 5:31 pm

Politics • Democrat Donna McAleer invites former colonel who fought 'don't ask, don't tell.'
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's a sign of changing times in Utah: A congressional candidate in a conservative district is holding a fundraiser that features a lesbian famous for fighting the military's now-discarded "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

"If it hurt me, I wouldn't be doing it," said Democrat Donna McAleer, who faces Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, in a rematch of their race two years ago.

Bishop won then by nearly a 3-to-1 margin.

McAleer is bringing in retired Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer of the Washington State National Guard for a $100 per person fundraiser Aug. 21. It is billed on McAleer's website as an "equality event" at the "incredible Park City home" of Scott Jaffa and Shane Herbert.

Cammermeyer's story was made famous by the 1995 TV movie "Serving in Silence," starring Glenn Close, based on a book written by the colonel.

Cammermeyer was married to a man for 15 years and had four sons. The marriage ended amid problems that she wrote were an identity crisis that led her to understand she is a lesbian. In 1989, during a security clearance interview, she disclosed she is gay.

The National Guard honorably discharged her. She challenged the forced discharge in court and won a ruling that the ban on gays in the military was unconstitutional. She returned to the National Guard and served until she retired as one of the few openly gay people in the military while the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was in effect.

In 1998, Cammermeyer made an unsuccessful run herself for Congress in Washington.

McAleer — a graduate of West Point and a former Army officer — said she met Cammermeyer while serving on the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services. Members are appointed by the defense secretary to advise on the treatment, recruitment and retention of women.

"She's a role model to many in the Army for her leadership," McAleer said. "And she's somebody I knew of as a lieutenant, and whose career and leadership I watched and learned from."

She added they both worked on the advisory council on repealing "don't ask, don't tell."

"Love is love," McAleer said. "I wore a uniform in support of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all."

She said she does not believe the invitation hurts her politically now in the 1st Congressional District. "When you look at the district and a variety of issues, most people are somewhere in the middle."

McAleer said Cammermeyer's endorsement is not so much about her stand on gay rights as it is about supporting someone who can help end Washington gridlock — which McAleer said most voters seek.

"She knows people are frustrated on the lack of movement on issues affecting the economy, pay equity and strengthening education," McAleer said. "She knows of my record of delivering results in the corporate sector, in the military and in the nonprofit sector."

McAleer added, "While we're coming together around an issue that a core group of people believe in, it is much more about getting things done."

Of local note, Turner Bitton, McAleer's campaign manager, said that the colonel's brother, Tom Cammermeyer, is a Park City resident who founded an outdoor-education program.

Bitton also said that after the colonel's divorce, her ex-husband converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and raised their sons as members of the Utah-based faith.

ldavidson@sltrib.com