THE BLOG
09/20/2012 03:33 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Reflecting on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Repeal

Today is a reminder that President Obama fights for all Americans. On the first anniversary of the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," gay servicemembers like me -- and all Americans -- have plenty to be grateful for.

In January 2010 I was stationed in Japan, serving in the U.S. Navy. I was celebrating my 23rd birthday with my boyfriend at a restaurant in Tokyo. During one of the best meals of my life, the lights in the restaurant went out. A bright spotlight shone down on me. I was suddenly aware that I was in the center of the restaurant. Every eye was staring at me. A voice shouted from speakers high above.

"Everyone, please join us in singing 'Happy Birthday' to Brian here, who is bravely serving in the Navy and celebrating with his boyfriend."

Everyone in the restaurant -- Japanese and Americans -- clapped, sang, and cheered as I blew out a cake covered in sparklers. It was one of the happiest, most romantic evenings of my life. It was also the most terrifying: What if someone in the military reported me? What if someone took a video and another servicemember saw it and reported it? My career would have been over.

I waited in numb terror for months to be called into a room and told I was being discharged for simply being gay. But I was lucky; it never happened. And because of President Obama, no American servicemember has to hide whom they love to serve the country they love.

When the repeal came on Sept. 20, 2011, it meant that the military valued how well we did our job, not whom we dated. It meant that we could have dinner with a loved one in peace.

And it was actually a non-event for most service members. As a recently published study from UCLA's Palm Center concluded, the repeal has not had any overall negative impact on military readiness or its component dimensions. It shows, as President Obama says, that "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.'"

As I look back to one year ago, I have to ask myself about what our country will look like a year from now. And it's not just on issues of equality for all; it's about our economic security, too.

I'm now a veteran living in Dearborn, Mich. I'm pursuing a degree in communications at a community college and hope to someday work for Ford, just like my dad. Because of President Obama, that prospect seems realer every day. He's making sure veterans like me are getting benefits we've earned to get an education and help finding a good job. He's connecting our community colleges with the needs of industries, so that we have the skills for high-growth jobs in manufacturing and clean energy. And there's that bet he placed on the American worker who is now stamping "Made in Detroit" on the best cars in the world.

Yet not everyone is as proud of the progress we've built. Just this week Mitt Romney wrote off half the country when he said he doesn't care about the "47 percent" in this country. The majority of those Americans he dismissed are working families, including people serving in our military.

My gay shipmates, who do everything from gather military intelligence to manage our secure information technology networks, no longer have to hide who they are in order to continue to serve in the Navy. But unlike President Obama, Mitt Romney would have kept "don't ask, don't tell" in place. Would he also follow through and cut the college grants that President Obama expanded? Would he give millionaires and billionaires a tax cut by raising taxes on the middle class? Would auto jobs in Michigan disappear again because Mitt Romney bets against American workers despite being the son of a Michigan auto man? These are all terrifying questions with frightening answers if we don't do our part to protect the progress we've made.

On this anniversary, all Americans have plenty to be proud of and reflect on. But we also have so much more to lose, because progress is never certain but easily reversed if we don't keep moving forward.

Register to vote at gottavote.com. Organize your friends and fellow veterans.

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