Today, the legislated homophobia known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" comes to an end. As a young gay soldier who served between the ages of 17 and 22, DADT forced me to live a life that was defined by a fear of being open about my sexuality. It isolated me from meaningful relationships with my fellow soldiers, entrenched within me an internalized homophobia that took years to undo, and in one dark moment almost led me to take my own life.
DADT repeal means that these soldiers won't have to go through what I went through. It means that they will be free and open to be themselves with the backing of a very visible out LGBT military community that will be there for them at every step. Repeal makes me feel happy, accomplished, and proud.
Yet, it makes me a little uneasy as well, because deep down I know that hate and discrimination don't disappear that easily. I know that when it becomes unpopular to freely spout those kinds of ideas, they simmer underneath the surface and are manifested in various ways. Having been an African-American soldier in the US military long after the troops were integrated, I know firsthand how the -isms and phobias of mainstream society are often replicated within our military, and understood why legal protections were in place to prevent any race-based discrimination.
Sadly enough, this protection is not being afforded to the gay soldiers who will serve in the future, as the nondiscrimination clause for gay and lesbian soldiers was dropped from the DADT repeal language in order to guarantee its passage. Yes, gay soldiers will be able to serve openly, but will have no legal recourse as to battle any type of anti-gay discrimination they may experience while serving our country.
This is wrong, and is worth discussion, as is the continued discrimination on a national level that will keep these soldiers and their spouses from enjoying the benefits of equal marriage. It is these issues and more that will keep them and other LGBT people in this country second class citizens, in or out of the military.
Today, the fight against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is over, but with it comes the signal that the battle for LGBT rights has just begun. This is one win that was hard fought and well-earned, and now is the time to be vigilant and to push forward in gaining the rights that we deserve in all areas. Now is the time to push for equal marriage rights, anti-bullying protections in school to protect LGBT youth, extended HIV/AIDS funding, and to continue the fight against homophobia wherever it manifests itself.
We now know that we can win, so it's time to gear up for the next battle.
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