Yesterday was a day to celebrate. The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell marked the end of a long and shameful era in our military’s history. The policy known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell denied the very dignity and humanity of our brothers and sisters in uniform. Our government asked these brave men and women to march into battle and serve their country while simultaneously telling them that they were not equal and must hide who they are in order to serve the country they love.
In anticipation of the anniversary, I reached out to a few friends to hear their thoughts on the policy that banned troops from being openly gay.
I heard from two incredible women who both challenged the military’s anti-LGBT policies in their own ways—and won! They are decorated veterans, equality advocates, and true patriots. I asked them what it was like to serve their country under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and here’s what they had to say:
“My name is Grethe Cammermeyer and I am a retired Colonel, a registered nurse, and a doctor. I served in the military for 31 years and am proud of my country. The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell changed the tenor of the military for gay service members like myself. Under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, gay and lesbian service members represented the flag with dignity. With the repeal of DADT, the flag represents us all as we serve with integrity. Finally, the flag represents us.
I am now working to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which prevents families of service members and veterans from being recognized and receiving the respect and care they deserve. My love and my family is just as treasured as those of my sons' and grandchildren. We will leave this world a better place than we found it as we all live out our truth.”
Major Margaret “Margie” Witt, USAFR, Retired, is a decorated, 20-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force who made history in 2010 with her successful constitutional challenge to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. She was on active duty for over eight years and, among other assignments, served as an operating room nurse at the Wiesbaden Regional Medical Center in Germany where she tended to soldiers wounded in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. In her Air Force career, Margie logged nearly 2,000 hours as a flight nurse before being suspended in 2004 when the Air Force announced it was pursuing her discharge under DADT. Three months after she was ordered reinstated, Congress repealed the law.
Here’s what she had to say about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:
“One thing I really want everyone to know is how proud I am of everyone who is serving and those who served in silence for decades. We have always served honorably and now we have proven it to the world. It's not who we love; it’s how we serve. I have fought and will continue to fight for full rights for those who serve. My spouse Laurie and I are currently involved in helping to pass Referendum 74 in Washington to legalize marriage equality. We WILL make it happen!”
I was especially touched by the story of my dear friend Joe Barrows. I met Joe in Colorado and he told me of his service in the Americal Division in Vietnam. He and his team placed electronic sensors along infiltration trails to detect and interdict enemy movement. Here’s what he had to say about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:
“It seems remarkable that it has only been a year since the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” became effective. The smooth transition to acceptance by our military is a testament both to the professionalism of our service members and to the absurdity of the rule in the first place.
For me, it was an amazing day of affirmation. For the first time since coming home from Vietnam to a world that would have preferred to forget our service, I felt my service in those troubled times was—at last—officially acknowledged. To be able to stand tall and say that I served proudly meant much more to me than I had anticipated.”
At the time of the repeal, a majority of Americans—67%--supported ending the ban on open service by gay and lesbian troops. And we can guess that the number is probably higher today. A recent study has shown that the repeal has not hurt the military—contrary to the predictions of opponents.. Retention and recruitment have not been impacted and the sky has not fallen. Ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was the right, the just, and the patriotic thing to do.
As joyous as that day was, the repeal does not address serious discrimination still facing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender service members. The repeal does not change the ban on service by transgender service members, nor does it repeal the strict regulations against service members who are living with HIV. And perhaps most egregious, the repeal does not address the government’s ongoing disregard for same-gender spouses of service members and veterans. Because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Veterans Affairs will continue to deny benefits to same-gender married spouses, and the military will continue to treat married spouses of active service members as legal strangers.
Together, we will work until the day when all of our service men and women are treated with the dignity, honor and respect they deserve. And with veterans like Grethe, Margie and Joe, I know we will win these battles.
For a complete history of Don’t Ask, Don’t tell, visit: http://www.sldn.org/pages/about-dadt1