Saturday, June 10, 2023

By:  Barry Mangold


PORTLAND, Ore. – Decades after her son was given a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Navy, the effort of a Portland mother to reinstate his military honors paid off.

Martin Cerezo joined the Navy in 1988 after he graduated high school, following in the footsteps of other men in his family.

“He really wanted to travel the world and felt like the Navy was the best way to do it,” said Cheryle Cerezo-Gardiner, his mother.

Cheryle said before he enlisted, he came out to her as homosexual. At the time, the military rejected anyone who identified as gay.

“It just seemed like a recipe for disaster. But he told me, he said, ‘Mom, I’ll be careful. I promise I won’t get in trouble,'” Cheryle said.

Martin, who was bilingual, sailed on the USS Constellation and translated for his crew through multiple stops at ports in South America. He told his mother about every trip and had a “perfect record,” she said. Martin’s potential with the Navy seemed limitless.

His early career and aspirations in the military came to a sudden halt when he was called into a security office 19 months into his service, in 1990.

“(Martin) was told that they had evidence that he was homosexual and that the best thing for him to do was to come clean,” Cheryle said.

The Navy offered Martin a deal: identify the other Naval officers who were secretly homosexual and receive an honorable discharge. He held up his end of it, however, the Navy did not.

“They stripped him of his rank. They escorted him off the base, they took his ID card, they took his pass,” Cheryle said. “He said, ‘I felt like a real criminal.'”

Martin was given an “other than honorable” discharge, which prevented him from enlisting in other branches of the military or getting a job in law enforcement.

For the next several years, Martin traveled the U.S., found his lifelong partner, came out to his family, and began using drugs and alcohol. His love for the Navy remained, Cheryle said.

“So ultimately, the action in 1990 that sent my son home, as ‘other than honorable,’ I believe, with all my heart, killed him,” she said.

Martin developed a serious liver disease in 2000, which ultimately developed into cancer. The illness motivated him to attempt to upgrade his discharge to ‘honorable,’ but the pain of discrimination and the fear of another rejection lingered, according to his mother.

Once the disease progressed, Cheryle recalls Martin’s desire to fix his military discharge status even on his deathbed.

“He’s dying and that’s all he wants,” she said.

Cheryle promised to upgrade his status so he could be buried at Willamette National Cemetery.

After working with pro bono attorneys to upgrade his discharge status, Cheryle still needed an exception to have him buried at the cemetery because of a two-year service requirement. She reached out to the offices of Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, who expedited the request.

On Friday, June 9, Cheryle watched as her son was buried with military honors.

“I love my son. My son was never dishonored with his family,” said Cheryle. “He always had his honor. I want that to be known. That it was only small-minded people thought he was other than honorable.

Cheryle is now determined to stand with other veteran families and against discrimination in honor of her son’s life.

“If his name is remembered, because in some way we broke down a wall or blazed a trail, then he won’t be forgotten,” she said.

For decades the U.S. military excluded LGBTQ individuals from service.

In 1993, the policy commonly known as “Don’t ask don’t tell,” was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The policy allowed LGBTQ service members as long as they did not reveal their sexual orientation.