Maria Zoe Dunning is a U. S. Naval Academy graduate and gay rights activist. She is the first and only openly gay person allowed to remain on active duty in the military prior to the end of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.
Dunning was nominated to the United States Naval Academy by her Congressman James Sensenbrenner and graduated with the Class of 1985 with a Bachelors of Science Degree. After graduation from Annapolis, she was commissioned an Ensign in the Navy Supply Corps. After attending Navy Supply Corps School in Athens, Georgia, she was assigned to the USS Lexington. In January 1993, while a student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, she announced her homosexuality at a rally in support of Petty Officer Keith Meinhold. On June 10, 1993, a three-member Navy administrative board recommended that she be honorably discharged despite arguments that the action violated a Federal judge's ruling the previous winter. Dunning appealed and argued that she made a statement of status and not conduct. In December 1994, another three-member Navy administrative board met at Treasure Island and unanimously agreed with Dunning's argument that her public statement "I am a lesbian" did not violate “Don't Ask, Don't Tell”. She was also promoted between those hearings. Afterwards the military released regulations that made any future use of that defense impossible.In a letter dated May 24, 1995, the Chief of Naval Personnel wrote Dunning, "Your administrative separation case proceedings are closed, and you will be retained in the Naval Service," ending a two-year battle. At the end of her obligated active duty service, she transferred into the United States Navy Reserve and attended Stanford Graduate School of Business in Palo Alto, California. Dunning retired from the Navy Reserve after 22 years of service as a commissioned officer in a ceremony on board the USS Hornet in Alameda, California.
She served as the Co-Chair of the Governing Board of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) from its founding in 1993 until 1998, and again from 2006 to through 2011. Dunning has served as a member of the Board of Directors of Stanford Pride, the Stanford LGBTQQI alumni club, since 2011, and as its Vice-President since 2012.
LGBT History Month celebrates the achievements of many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who have contributed significantly in several ways to the advancement of our community. Limited by the number of days on the calendar, showcasing every individual who has made a major impact would be difficult. Yet, across decades and eras, revolutions and wars, and discovery and enlightenment, SPART*A honors past and present LGBT figures in our history this month.