Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal

Today is a great day. Today, the President signed the bill that
will eventually repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. All that’s left
is the certification necessary to finally implement open service in
the United States Armed Forces. Today I feel an enormous sense of
pride because prior to joining Family Equality Council in November
of 2009, I spent 3 years giving legal advice to service members
impacted by DADT. Several of the brave men and women standing next
to the President today as he signed the repeal bill are former
clients of mine.

The past several weeks have been a whirlwind and at times, I
wasn’t sure we would actually see this day, but after the votes
on Saturday afternoon, I knew we had done it. As an added bonus, on
Monday night I was invited to watch a live taping of the Rachel
Maddow show where she interviewed and celebrated the repeal of DADT
with 4 genuine American heroes – Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, West
Point Cadet Katie Miller, Major Mike Almy and Captain Jonathan
Hopkins. As I sat in the audience and listened to the interviews, I
remembered all of those service members I had the privilege of
assisting during my 3 years with Servicemembers Legal Defense
Network. I remember my first client, an enlisted soldier serving in
Iraq who called me at midnight (his time) every night for over 2
weeks, terrified he was under investigation and about to be served
with discharge papers. How would he explain to his parents and
siblings his sudden discharge from the Army that he took so much
pride in? I remember the first time Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach
called me. While I listening to his story I thought to myself –
the Air Force is going to discharge this experienced Aviator with
almost 500 combat flight hours and 9 Air Medals because some
civilian outed him.

There were hundreds of service members over the years who called us
for help and as I sat and listened to Victor, Katie, Mike and
Jonathan talk about what repeal would mean to them, I thought about
what repeal would mean not only for the 66,000 other gay, lesbian
and bisexual service members currently serving and the almost
14,000 men and women who’ve been discharged under DADT since
1993, but also what this would mean for their families. Finally,
these service members won’t have to worry about coming out to
their parents or siblings for fear of someone finding out and
telling the military. Finally, deployed service members with
partners can call and write letters home without fear of being
fired if someone finds out who their significant other is. Finally,
service members with kids can create legal relationships with their
own children and access all of the benefits these dependents are
entitled to without fear of losing their jobs. These families will
no longer be excluded from the day-to-day lives of the service
members they love.

It’s not yet clear how long the “certification” process will
take. And because of the Defense of Marriage Act, lesbian and gay
service members will not yet be able to access benefits for their
same-sex spouses or partners. But once open service is implemented,
lesbian, gay and bisexual service members will no longer be forced
to lie about who they are or what their families look like. Today,
lesbian, gay and bisexual service members have taken the first few
steps out of the shadows towards full equality at work. I’m so
honored to have played a small part in this story and to have had
the privilege of working with and on behalf of some of the most
honorable men and women I have ever encountered. Today is indeed a
great day.