The landmark, bipartisan, and Congressional action I witnessed the president sign last week may prove to be the tipping point when it comes to gay rights in America. The sense of optimism and hope were truly palpable amongst the several hundred at the signing ceremony.
My gut told me it was genuine. As proof, I was able to look into the eyes of and speak directly to the president, vice president, Nancy Pelosi, Admiral Mullen, Senator Collins and Barney Frank. Rather amazing they made themselves available.
Convening on that bitterly cold morning of December 22nd was a group of activists, supporters, former soldiers, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who had a big stake in the repeal. No doubt, many or all had worked long and hard for this move toward equality. In the crowd was my friend David Mixner, who was arrested at the White House gate after the policy was implemented in 1992. The president he spent years before working hard to elect had reneged on his campaign pledge to allow gays and lesbians to serve in the military.
President Obama also made the campaign pledge to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military and restated that pledge in his State of the Union address earlier this year.
Justice was ultimately served by the repeal. But, at what price? We know over 13,000 brave Americans who risked their lives for their country, were discharged from military service, simply by virtue of who they are. Tens of thousands more subverted their sexual orientation or severed connections with loved ones in order to serve their country -a terrible choice to be forced to make.
Who knows how many chose not to serve in the military as they viewing it as too great a sacrifice? Admiral Mullen, stated, "Our people sacrifice a lot for their country, including their lives. None of them should have to sacrifice their integrity as well." The president cited Admiral Mullen at the ceremony and stated, "That's why I believe this is the right thing to do for our military. That's why I believe it is the right thing to do, period."
If gays and lesbians can now serve with pride and integrity, as they have in the U.K. since 2000 as well as 34 other countries, will their service create other stepping-stones toward equality and social justice?
The military became increasingly out of step with the rest of the country as America discovered over the past four decades they had gays and lesbians as family members, neighbors, coworkers, health care practitioners, financial executives and just about every occupation one can recite. Both national and military polls demonstrated what most of the country already knew: gays and lesbians are clearly able to serve openly in the military. Overwhelming majority support gave politicians the political cover necessary to cast a historic vote to repeal an unfair, outdated and outmoded policy.
It's possible the repeal of DADT will be cited as an initial stepping-stone toward equality. The repeal now permits gays and lesbians to serve to serve the nation's largest employer and enlist them.
The president stated, "For we are not a nation that says, "don't ask, don't tell. We are a nation that says, 'Out of many, we are one.' We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot. We are a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal. Those are the ideals that generations have fought for. Those are the ideals that we uphold today."
In many parts of America, gays and lesbians have the freedom to live and work openly without discrimination and prejudice. People recognize that gays and lesbians are part of every community and are not threatened by or deem homosexuality as abnormal. Indeed, the American Psychological Association does not recognize anything abnormal, either.
But, in other parts of America, this isn't so. Gays and lesbians are judged because they've allegedly made a choice -- a sexual "preference". A same sex relationship is deemed abnormal and unacceptable. In these parts of the country, including 29 states, gays and lesbians can be fired for simply being homosexual. Only 5 states permit same sex marriage or civil unions. Sadly, there are over 1100 federal provisions that are generally not available to the gay community.
Many organizations are working diligently to educate the remaining parts of America and it appears to be working. I salute the Human Rights Campaign, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, the ACLU and the state organizations, like PROMO in Missouri for being forces for change. Friendfactor.org is new organization designed to connect and educate new supporters (mostly the heterosexual community) who are committed to helping their LGBT friends achieve full legal freedoms, faster. Harvard recognized the organization's founder, Brian Elliot, this year for social innovation.
When does the tipping point occur? Or, has it already happened? Much work lies ahead to defeat the so-called DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), along with adding federal anti-discriminatory legislation and allowing for same sex marriage equality. Let repeal of DADT be America's tipping point toward equality, pointing the way forward for social justice for all.
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