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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand Headshot

One Step Closer To Repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

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How far we've come since last June when I first committed to you that I would do all I could to work toward repeal of the corrosive policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Since then, I've worked hard to whip support for an amendment to temporarily halt the enforcement of the policy; I secured the commitment of Chairman Levin to hold the first Senate hearings on DADT, the first of which, I'm proud to say, was held early last month; and just last week, I was thrilled to stand with my colleagues as an original co-sponsor of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2010, which will repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and prohibit discrimination of servicemembers based on their sexual orientation.

We are now closer than we've ever been to repealing this unjust and discriminatory measure that both hampers our national security and violates the civil rights of some of our bravest Americans.

At a time when we're fighting multiple wars abroad, we need all of our best and brightest serving.

Since DADT was instituted 17 years ago, more than 13,500 American troops have been discharged at an estimated cost of over $400 million; those discharges include more than 800 specialists with skills deemed mission critical by the U.S. military. We've lost pilots, engineers, doctors, nurses, and combat medics to this policy, all of which are disciplines where the military has faced shortfalls in recent years.

In addition, this policy has disproportionately impacted women. While women make up approximately fifteen percent of the armed forces, they account for nearly half of all "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" discharges from the Army and Air Force.

But as important as the statistics are, even more compelling are the stories of the thousands of brave Americans who just want to serve their country, but whose careers have been ended because of this destructive policy.

Take former Army Sergeant Pepe Johnson who served as a field artilleryman at Fort Sill, Oklahoma beginning in 2000 where he worked with major firearms and advanced weaponry. In 2001, Sergeant Johnson was selected as Fort Sill's Soldier of the Year. Thinking he would be the "magic bullet" to kill DADT, in 2003 Sergeant Johnson outed himself to his Commander. While his action has not yet ended the policy, 7 years later, his words and his story inspire me and my colleagues to take action.

As Sergeant Johnson told us:

Honesty and integrity are everything in the army. I felt if I was lying, I didn't have it. I wasn't serving with integrity...As long as Don't Ask, Don't Tell exists, there is a hole in the integrity of the entire military.

Then there's Becky Kanis, a former Captain in the US Army, who told us:

The Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy put me in the situation of having to choose between following the rules and violating my integrity. I chose to violate my integrity, that is, I denied being a lesbian, I gave vague explanations about my personal life, and told hundreds of small white-lies on a regular basis to people who I hated having to lie to.

And then the words of someone we know only as 'R' who submitted this story to my "DADT Story Project" website:

One thing continued to eat at me, though. I couldn't be myself. I fell in love with an active duty member and sacrificed my career for the sake of hers. We've been together for over 8 years and are planning for life after the military, but there's a part of me that misses the military. I felt like I was doing something bigger than myself. I felt like I was doing something for the country that I love. The Air Force spent over a million dollars to train me to fly. I continue to fly, commercially, but would go back tomorrow if Don't Ask Don't Tell were repealed. (I cannot give my name or e-mail address due to the fact that my partner is still active)

Our brave men and women should not have to lie about who they are, whom they love or who their next of kin is. And 'R' should not have to tell her story anonymously for fear of ruining the career of the person she loves. As long as "Don't Ask Don't Tell" is in place, our military is asking our brave men and women to lie about who they are, which undermines not only their own integrity but that of the armed forces themselves. That's the lesson I learned from Dan Choi when I first heard his story last June and that's the lesson I continue to take from those who've told us their stories. It's because of them that I continue to fight to make sure we don't lose one more servicemember to this immoral and corrosive policy.

And that's why I'm so proud to be an original co-sponsor of this legislation, which will lead us to finally overturning this destructive and corrosive policy once and for all.

To add your name to the growing chorus of Americans who wish to overturn DADT, please sign my petition.

Below is video of my speech at last week's event announcing the Senate's DADT repeal bill:

For more frequent updates on my work to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," please follow me on Twitter and become my fan on Facebook.