I talked with Retired Navy Captain Joan Darrah about a letter she wrote to Governor Bob McDonnell (R-Va.), chairman of the Republican National Convention's platform committee, asking to address the committee in support of marriage equality when it meets in Tampa, Fla., between Aug. 27 and Aug. 30. Captain Darrah served for 30 years as a Naval Intelligence Officer. She retired in June 2002. After retirement she was a leading advocate in the fight to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" and testified before the House Armed Services Committee's Military Personnel Subcommittee. Darrah and her wife of 22 years, Lynne Kennedy, are plaintiffs in McLaughlin v. Panetta, a case brought by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) on behalf of eight married gay and lesbian servicemember and veteran couples seeking the same recognition, rights, and benefits as their straight, married colleagues. Her request to speak before the Republican National Convention's platform committee was denied. I talked to Joan about this and other issues facing our LGBT community.
When asked what her personal commitment is to LGBT civil rights, Darrah stated:
Well, I served for 30 years in the Navy. After I was in for several years, I realized that I was gay, and I continued to serve under "don't ask, don't tell." When I retired, I knew it was a terrible law, and I knew I basically had to live two lives under it. I got some encouragement from other people to try and join the group primarily led by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network to start work to try and get rid of "don't ask, don't tell." Initially I was a little reluctant, because it was so difficult to live under "don't ask, don't tell," and I needed a little distance. But then I added my voice and testified before Congress, did a significant amount of lobbying and grassroots initiatives to ultimately get "don't ask, don't tell" repealed. So now gays and lesbians can serve openly in the military without the fear of being fired. My whole career, I would go to work each day hoping that wouldn't be the day I might get outed and fired. So, fortunately, "don't ask, don't tell" is gone, and from all reports, gay servicemen and women are serving, and it's working out just great. So the next logical step is to have all servicemembers be treated equally, and because of the Defense of Marriage Act, gay couples are not afforded so many benefits that their straight shipmates are afforded.
During her career Darrah had various operational and administrative assignments, including Chief of Staff and Deputy Commander at the Office of Naval Intelligence. Captain Darrah's personal decorations include the Legion of Merit (three awards), Meritorious Service Medal (three awards), the Navy Commendation Medal (three awards) and the Navy Achievement Medal. Joan lives with wife Lynne in Alexandria, Va.
For more information on the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), visit sldn.org.
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