2014 Veterans Wall Honorees
Dennis Michael Fiordaliso, USN
Dennis graduated from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland in 1970, and served as an Engineering Officer in the Atlantic and Mediterranean Fleets for four years, achieving the rank of Lieutenant. He also later served as an Admiral’s Aide on the Military Staff Committee of the United Nations Security Council in New York City. In San Diego, Dennis was a Founding Board Member of the Lambda Archives, where he served as Treasurer for 16 consecutive years. During this time, he also initiated and helped implement the conversion of the organization’s financial records, membership lists, and inventories of books and other collections from hard-copy to computer files. Dennis was also a Board Member of Athletes-in-Motion, and helped organize the participation of 250 San Diego athletes at the Gay Games in Vancouver in 1990, where Team San Diego earned 150 medals including a Silver Medal for Dennis in Track. In 1992, as a member of the San Diego Veterans Association, Dennis was one of two dozen openly gay military veterans to march as a contingent in the San Diego Veterans Day Parade, the first such activity of its kind by a gay group in the United States. Also, during the past 25 years, Dennis has supported the work of other community groups, including: San Diego Front Runners and Walkers, Diversionary Theatre, the San Diego Democratic Club, the LGBT Center, and San Diego Pride.
Robert Hall “Jess” Jessop, USN
Robert Hall Jessop – known by most in San Diego’s LGBT community as Jess Jessop – is one of San Diego’s true LGBT pioneers. What is not as well known, is Jess’s honorable service to the US Navy. It is unclear when Jess first entered the service, but Lambda Archives is in possession of a certificate of honorable discharge dated November 20, 1967. Lambda Archives also has a copy of Jess’s promotion certificate to Hospital Corpsman Second Class, date November 16, 1964. It is believed that he reached HC1st Class. Jess was awarded the Navy’s Silver Star for service in Vietnam, but it is said that he refused the honor as he was opposed to the war. Jess came to San Diego in 1969 for college, and was one of the early pioneers of San Diego’s LGBT community. In 1970, he famously set-up an answering machine in a utility closet that served as a help line to anyone in the LGBT community. That simple answering machine eventually became the San Diego LGBT Community Center. He also founded the Lesbian and Gay Archives in 1987, which is now known as the Lambda Archives. He was a most active member of the community until his death from AIDS in 1990.
John Carlos Keasler, USA
John Carlos Keasler entered the U.S. Army in 1969. At his first duty station was the First Field Forces Viet Nam where he was assigned to duties as diverse as overseeing artillery base stand downs sand prisoner escort. Viet Nam was where he first experienced the very closeted but very active gay society of U. S. military life. Those experiences would continue as he rotated into an assignment in Northern Italy in the Southern European Task Force. Except for the military’s policy to criminally prosecute gays and lesbians, John might have made the Army his career. Using the GI Bill to finish his Degree at the University of North Texas, John relocated to San Diego in 1975. Here he almost immediately became involved in the fledgling Gay Rights Movement, including No on Prop 6, the fight against a ban on all gay and lesbian teachers in public schools. In 1985 with Jim Woodward and Stan Berry, John helped to found the San Diego Veterans Association (SDVA), the first organization for gay and lesbian veterans in San Diego. The SDVA also worked to protect the rights of gays, lesbians and bisexuals actively serving in the military. It would also bring such national notables as Miriam BenShalom and Perry Watkins to speak in San Diego. Because there was a strong peace movement interlinked with the gay rights activists there was much resistance to working on military related LGBT rights. The courage of people like Leonard Matlovich helped change minds on both sides of the issue. Calling on his experience working on the Gay Pride Marches in the 70s, John worked with the Veterans Advisory Council to reinstitute the Veterans Day Parade on San Diego streets after a double decade hiatus. In 1989 John would travel with Stan Berry to Washington D.C. to share concerns about the treatment of gays in the military, those unrightly discharged and military members with HIV/AIDS. There they would speak with members of Congress like Barbara Boxer, Alan Cranston, Pete Wilson and Ted Kennedy. In the 1990s John turned his focus to working with people with HIV/AIDS as a Benefits Counselor at the Center, a Quality Assurance Chair of the HIV Consumer Council, a Peer Advocate and Dean of the Strength for the Journey retreats. John continues that work as a member of the Board of San Diego Pozabilities. He is currently on the Board of Trustees of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego.
Robert A. Lehman, USMC
When Bob Lehman joined the Marine Corps in 1984, he was following in the footsteps of his grandfather, his father and his two brothers. He served proudly for nearly 10 years seeing action as an artillery sergeant in the first Gulf War, guarding nuclear weapons, as an artillery school instructor and finally the highly regarded placement as a Marine Recruiter. Time and again he was decorated for his service including the Navy Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, multiple Good Conduct Medals and several awards as a sharpshooter. Although a proud Marine, Bob experienced first-hand the isolation and discrimination facing LGBT military members. Because of his experience, once a veteran, he took it upon himself to right this wrong, becoming one of the nation’s leading activists for open service in the military. In 2001, he founded San Diego’s chapter of American Veterans for Equal Rights, hosting its national convention. He lobbied face-to-face with Democratic and Republican members of Congress to urge repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and organized lobbying trips to Washington DC. He was a founding member of the Military Education Initiative Board to examine military abuse of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Bob organized and led the first contingent of gay veterans to march in the San Diego Veteran’s Day Parade, holding heads high despite the denial of salutes from the grandstand officers. He became the first openly gay veteran appointed to the San Diego County Veteran’s Advisory Board. He became the first openly gay veteran appointed to the 51st Congressional District Veteran’s Advisory Board. For many years, Bob was a military commentator for several local television networks, wrote a military column in the Gay & Lesbian Times and was a featured columnist in the Union Tribune. Outside of military activism, Bob was one of the leading activists for marriage equality…eventually joining his husband of 22 years to become the first two men married in California history.He also co-founded the Stonewall Citizen’s Patrol following the brutal gay bashing of six gay men during Pride. This group is still going strong and just awarded Bob their “Founders Award” a few weeks ago. As a result of his contributions, the Mayor’s office has twice named “Robert A. Lehman Days” in the City of San Diego. San Diego Pride named him the “Champion of Pride” and the Lambda Achieves named him as one of 20 heroes in the past 20 years. He has received awards from Governors Davis and Schwarzenegger, Congresswoman Susan Davis, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, State Senator Christine Kehoe, State Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and Police Chief William Lansdowne. Today, Bob is President of the Board of the 200 member San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus—a role that allows him to celebrate the fruits of his past 15 years of activism and achievements—and, in the right setting—allows him to sing a good Johnny Cash song…or two.
Thomas Joseph Seguine, USN
Thomas J. Seguine is a proud transgender man who currently serves as a civilian Comptroller for the Department of the Navy. He has over 19 years of Department of Defense financial management experience, including Navy operational support, Army Garrison base support, and Air Force acquisition funds management. Thomas was a Storekeeper in the United States Navy for 10 years, ultimately earning the rank of Petty Officer First Class- E6. While providing supply support for two Navy commands, before and during Operation Iraqi Freedom, he earned a Navy Commendation Medal, two Navy Achievement medals, two National Defense medals, a Global War on Terrorism medal, and three good conduct medals. After completing 10 years of distinguished active duty military service, he transitioned to continue his service as a Navy civilian in 2005. He also became the very first civilian to openly transition his gender from female to male at his command. With the full support of his command, his open transition has served as an inspiration to LGBT civilians and service members alike. Additionally, he earned his Bachelors of the Arts in 2008 (graduating Cum Laude) while working full time, and was awarded the designation of Certified Defense Financial Manager (CDFM) in 2010. He is currently an active member in the American Society of Military Comptrollers. Early in his transition he was a member of the now defunct FTMI San Diego Chapter. He co-authored the article “He Said, She Said” for FlawLes magazine with his wife Sarafina about their journey as a queer couple in transition to serve as a reference for other couples. He was selected as the Keynote Speaker for the 10th Annual Transgender Day of Empowerment where many of his colleagues came to hear him speak. He is an active Board Member for Lambda Archives, a Leadership Circle member of The San Diego LGBT Community Center, and also serves on The Center’s first Project TRANS Advisory Committee. He has also mentored other young trans people through their transition and has spoken about his experience on multiple panels to educate people about the Trans experience and LGBT issues.
Frank Stefano, USN
Frank Stefano served in the US Navy and on reserve assignments for over 30 years. He was first stationed in San Diego in 1953 before taking assignments in London, England, and Washington DC. He served as Executive Officer and Commanding Officer of US Navy Reserve Commands in Manhattan and Brooklyn following his active duty service. He was educated at Bucknell University, and received advance degrees from New York University and the New School of Social Research. After his full time Navy service ended, he worked on Wall Street for NASD, NYSE and now gone brokerage firm, and owned his own tax service until retiring in 2005. He has been a permanent San Diego resident since the early 1990’s but has enjoyed his work on both coasts. He has been incredibly active with the LGBT movement since the 1970’s, starting with service to the Gay Switchboard in New York. In San Diego, he has volunteered with Mama’s Kitchen for over a decade, as well as a decade of service to the Lambda Archives through volunteering and board service. He has volunteered for San Diego Hospice for over 15 years, and regularly shares financial contributions to organizations like The Center.