Repeal of ban on LGBT service has been an unmitigated success
by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
On September 20, 2011, the U.S. military's ban on open service by Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Americans officially ended. 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' had finally died. On its way to the grave it took with it the careers of more than 14,000 brave LGB men and women who had once served to protect and defend America's freedoms at home and abroad.
I think we can all agree that DADT had overstayed its welcome. By the time President Barack Obama signed the legislative repeal of the 1993 policy, in December 2010, a number of credible polls had found that overwhelming support existed for a repeal of the discriminatory policy. The application of repeal was dependent upon certification by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of defense, and the president. Thankfully, Adm. Mike Mullen, Donald Gates, and Barack Obama moved quickly on the issue, and less than one year after repeal legislation was signed, DADT ended.
This week, America observed the first anniversary of the repeal of DADT. By and large, DADT repeal was hailed as a victory for the nation, its military, and our president. Several studies have concluded that DADT repeal had no negative impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, retention, or recruiting. And due to his leadership on the matter, DADT repeal is viewed as a crowning achievement of the Obama administration when it comes to championing Gay rights.
On Thursday, September 20, politicians, advocates, and military personnel released statements to commemorate the first anniversary of the end of DADT:
President Barack Obama:
'A year ago today, we upheld the fundamental American values of fairness and equality by finally and formally repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' Gay and Lesbian Americans now no longer need to hide who they love in order to serve the country they love. It is a testament to the professionalism of our men and women in uniform that this change was implemented in an orderly manner, preserving unit cohesion, recruitment, retention, and military effectiveness. As Commander in Chief, I've seen that our national security has been strengthened because we are no longer denied the skills and talents of those patriotic Americans who happen to be Gay or Lesbian. The ability of servicemembers to be open and honest about their families and the people they love honors the integrity of the individuals who serve, strengthens the institutions they serve, and is one of the many reasons why our military remains the finest in the world.'
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA):
'I was proud to vote to repeal this law that did a tremendous disservice to so many men and women who wanted nothing more than to defend their country and the freedoms America stands for. While today is a day of celebration, as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I remain committed to ensuring the Department of Veterans Affairs is a welcoming environment for LGBT veterans and their families, and that all servicemembers - regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity - receive quality health care and services.'
Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA):
'By relegating DADT to the history books, we paid tribute to principles of fairness and justice on which this nation was founded. True, there is much more that must be done to ensure that the rights of all Americans are recognized by our military and by our government. But this historic achievement is paving the way for progress.
'It has fundamentally changed the political landscape as it relates to LGBT rights. Openly Gay candidates like Sean Patrick Maloney, who is running for Congress in New York, are changing the conversation. Sean and his husband have been together for 20 years and they have three wonderful children. His family is central to his campaign. Not just to promote LGBT equality - which he does - but to connect with average voters concerned about education and the economy.
'Thanks to President Obama's leadership, marriage equality was included in the Democratic Party platform - the first time this has ever happened. Since DADT was repealed, four states have passed legislation supporting Gay marriage.
'Public opinion has shifted dramatically in our favor. National polls indicate that a majority of Americans support marriage equality - 54 percent, according to a June 2012 CNN poll.'
Aubrey Sarvis, Army veteran and executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network:
'The one-year anniversary of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal is a significant milestone that should not be minimized. We know from our nation's top military leaders, as well as our commanders and servicemembers, that the historic transition to open service that culminated with repeal a year ago today has been a successful one. Our men and women in uniform from the highest levels at the Pentagon to our servicemembers on the ground are to be commended for marching out smartly and getting the job done.
'We cannot forget - even as we celebrate this day - that there is still work to be done in order to reach full LGBT equality in the military. Even now, families of Gay and Lesbian servicemembers, veterans, are treated as second-class citizens, unable to receive the same recognition, support, and benefits as the families of their straight, married counterparts. We must repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and all federal laws that prevent the military from providing the same support for all servicemembers and their families. We cannot have two classes of servicemembers.'
Josh Seefried, co-founder and co-director of OutServe, an organization of actively serving LGBT servicemembers:
'What we have seen on the ground is exactly what we expected to see. As servicemembers, everyone always knew there were Gay and Lesbian Americans serving alongside them. The difference now is that we are able to be honest about who we are, and despite what opponents predicted, that has improved unit cohesion, not harmed it. And now, we don't have to look over our shoulders in fear that we will be discharged from the military we love for simply being Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual.'
In cooperation with OutServe and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, the Huffington Post's 'Gay Voices' blog put together a list of 25 memorable events since the repeal of DADT. Some of the more prominent ones were:
Marissa Gaeta and Citlalic Snell Claim a Navy Tradition:
Dubbed 'the kiss heard 'round the world,' two female sailors, Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta and Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell locked lips in Virginia Beach, Virginia, last December. Gaeta won the coveted and traditional Navy 'first kiss' after spending $50 on raffle tickets. Navy officials say it is the first time a Gay couple has won the 'first kiss' raffle.
The first academic study of the military's post-DADT, open-service policy shows that there are no detrimental effects stemming from repeal. Published by the Palm Center, a research branch of the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School, the study comes almost exactly one year after DADT's end.
Randy Phillips Comes Out on YouTube:
Immediately after the repeal, then-21-year-old Randy Phillips, who serves in the U.S. Air Force, captured everyone's attention by taping his coming out to his father and posting it on YouTube. Phillips's video went viral and has more than 6 million views to date. Later, the young soldier came out to his mother in a similar fashion.
Gay Military Organization Celebrates Repeal:
OutServe, the association of actively serving LGBT military personnel, hosted its first Armed Services Leadership Summit one month after DADT's repeal. The keynote speaker, Douglas Wilson, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs and the highest-ranking openly Gay official in Pentagon history, summed up everyone's thoughts by saying, 'This is freaking amazing.'
First Gay Civil Union Ceremony on a Military Base:
Tech. Sgt. Erwynn Umali and his partner, Airman Will Behrens, were the first same-sex couple to have a civil union ceremony on an American military base in New Jersey, where Gay marriage is not yet legal. The ceremony, which took place in front of 150 friends and family, was held on Umali's home station, McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
Openly Gay Soldiers March at San Diego Gay Pride:
This July was the first time Gay active servicemen and women marched in uniform in a Pride parade, after the Department of Defense allowed the city of San Diego the honor. The celebration drew in an estimated 200,000 attendees who cheered LGBT personnel from different military branches.
Stephen Hill Gets Booed:
When Stephen Hill, an American soldier in Iraq, asked Rick Santorum if he'd 'circumvent the progress that's been made for Gay and Lesbian soldiers in the military,' the crowd booed Hill. The incident occurred at the Republican presidential primaries in Florida soon after the repeal of DADT. President Obama chastised the GOP candidates for not saying anything to the crowd when he spoke at the HRC's annual national dinner and proclaimed that a commander-in-chief must support all military personnel - Gay or straight.
Social Networks Go Crazy Over Gay Soldier Kiss:
Perhaps the most memorable Gay military kiss, with a picture that garnered 37,000 Facebook 'likes,' shared online and on news outlets everywhere, Marine Sgt. Brandon Morgan jumped into the arms of boyfriend Dalan Wells, wrapped his legs around Wells's body, and kissed him. Morgan, who had just returned from Afghanistan to Hawaii, said, 'The world went away for a few minutes.'
Right at the stroke of midnight on Sept. 20, 2011, Navy Lt. Gary Ross wed his partner, Dan Swezy, in Vermont just as the repeal of DADT became official. The couple had been together for 11 years and traveled all the way from Arizona to get married in the first state to allow same-sex civil unions.
Tammy Smith Becomes First Openly Gay General:
In August, Tammy Smith of the Army Reserve became the American military's first openly Gay flag officer. Because of DADT's repeal, Smith can serve without worrying about dismissal based on her sexual orientation.
Gay Pride at the Pentagon:
LGBT troops gathered in June for a Pride celebration hosted by the Pentagon. This was the first time such an event occurred, where Gay soldiers (former and current) could be in uniform and openly talk about their pre- and post-DADT experiences with government officials.
Veterans Day 2011:
Last year's Veterans Day was the first since DADT's repeal. Cities across the nation honored those who have served with heartfelt tribute.
A Gay Soldier Reenlists:
Lee Reinhart was dismissed from service under DADT but became Illinois' first openly Gay man to re-enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces after repeal. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) administered the soldier's oath in front of a crowd in Chicago's Center on Halsted, a community resources center for LGBT people.
Marine Corps Leader Supports Gay Personnel:
Late August saw the head of the U.S. Marine Corps, Gen. James Amos, who first opposed the repeal of DADT, say openly Gay servicemembers haven't been an issue. Amos said, 'I'm very pleased with how it's turned out. I'm very proud of the Marines.'
Gay Military Couples Sue Federal Government:
Although the repeal of DADT was a joyous occasion, Gay military couples still do not have benefits equal to those of their straight colleagues because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which doesn't recognize same-sex marriage at a federal level. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, along with several Gay military families, filed a lawsuit against the federal government just one month after DADT's repeal to secure equal benefits for all.
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