The odious military policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" came to an end today. Its demise is a result of the activism of many in the LGBT community and their allies, but especially that of members of the military who spoke up and spoke out about their lives as lesbian or gay members of the U.S. Armed Services. Today I applaud their courageous activism.
One of the first was U.S. Air Force Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, who despite his purple heart and bronze star, was discharged by his commanding officer when he informed him that he was gay in 1975. Sgt. Matlovich then became the plaintiff in a test case challenging the military's indefensible ban of gays in the military. A federal court ordered him to be reinstated in 1980, before "Don't Ask" was put into effect.
Other activists followed. People like Army medic Sarah Hjalmarson, who could no longer live a lie, was discharged for coming out, and now hopes to serve again, and Captain Jonathan Hopkins, who stayed in the service until August of 2010, but who spoke and wrote about how the policy hurts our gay and lesbian service members who are not allowed to be all they can be.
Midshipman Joseph Steffan left the Naval Academy when he determined he could not live by the code of honor while hiding his identity, then wrote about his experience in his book Honor Bound.
Lt. Dan Choi, a graduate of West Point and a much-needed linguist and Arabic translator, was discharged after being outed. Dan became a tireless campaigner against DADT.
Army office and engineer Bridget Altenburg wrote about the unhealthy stress placed on gay and lesbian service members, and how her loved one could not join the other military spouses, at the Welcome Home ceremonies. Their celebration had to be held later, in private.
These and countless other activists spoke out for the thousands of service members who were discharged, those who left the service because of the policy, those who stayed and suffered in silence. Today is a great day for all of them.
I was proud to be a co-sponsor of Rep. Chris Murphy's legislation to repeal DADT, and voted for repeal each time it came for a vote in the House in 2010, as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act in May 2010 and as a stand-alone bill in December, 2010.
We should celebrate this victory and congratulate those who worked so hard to make this happen.
Then we need to get back to work to make sure that discrimination against LGBT service members also comes to an end. Attempts have already been made in the Republican controlled House to keep discrimination in place, by those such as Rep. Joe ("you lie") Wilson and Rep. Virginia ("death panels") Foxx. We need to work to end the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which legalizes discrimination against married LGBT service members in the area of benefits. And we need to make sure that there are policies in place for the protection of openly gay members of the military. Our activism is still needed.