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I Was Just the Seat-Holder: Gay Military Families at the SOTU

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Less than two years ago under "Don't Ask Don't Tell," I wasn't able to even exist. Since then, I joined a group of courageous gay and lesbian spouses to brief Pentagon officials, co-founded a National LGBT military family organization, witnessed the repeal of DADT, married the love of my life, she got promoted to Brigadier General, and I went from invisible to "out" in the most public way possible. Tuesday I was an invited guest of the First Lady to personally witness her husband's commitment to ALL military families.

The most remarkable experience of these past couple years has been meeting gay and lesbian soldiers and their spouses, partners, and families. Both Tammy and I feel an enormous obligation to these soldiers -- sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen -- to see that their families are respected and cared for with equal dignity and respect. So I felt the tremendous weight of that obligation when I got the remarkable phone call inviting me to attend the State of the Union as a distinguished guest of the First Lady.

My first thoughts were of the Morgan and Johnson families. Karen Morgan lost her wife Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan to cancer on February 10. Staff Sergeant Tracy (Dice) Johnson's wife Staff Sergeant Donna Johnson was killed October 1 by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. Tammy and I went to the White House holding these widows especially close in our hearts.
As we arrived at the White House gate a woman came up to me saying, "Are you Tracey? Are you the one who's going to overturn DOMA?"

"Well, I don't know about that, there are a lot of us working on it!" I said, laughing.

"I read about you -- the military families are the ones who are going to get this done. Can I get a hug? Will you let me take a picture with you?"

The encounter reminded me again, I am just a seat-holder. I was invited to be at the State of the Union with the First Lady, but I was holding the seat for countless military spouses, across all branches of service, and their family members.

When I met Dr. Biden and the First Lady I let them know I was representing ALL military families, in special honor the Morgan and Johnson Families. I told the First Lady that Charlie had died on Sunday and that she wanted to live to see this day. The First Lady said she was so sorry, and expressed her condolences to Charlie's family.

When we arrived at the Capital and were seated in the First Ladies box, I represented all of us that night. It was an honor to represent the many who paved the path to this moment and the countless warriors and their families whose wounds still sting from serving under Don't Ask Don't Tell.

It was a privilege to be able to witness the President of the United States say these words:

"We will ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal benefits for their families- - gay and straight."

I leapt out of my seat, pumping my fist in the air and cheering -- if the camera had been on me, I might have been the only one in the box jumping up and down. I felt those words. How long have we waited for those very words: equal treatment.

After the speech, our escorts put us in line, handed us tickets, and said, "You're going to meet the president" -- all I could think was, "What am I going to tell the President of the United States?"

It was my turn. His aide announced my name. He looked at me and a big smile followed. I extended my hand to the President of the United States. He said it was a pleasure to meet me!? I thanked him for his words in the SOTU and continuing commitment to all military families. He didn't rush our encounter.

The president and I spent some time discussing the military benefits that the Pentagon announced and the work that still remains. He told me that the Service Secretaries are really on board with treating all service members equally. Then he looked me right in the eye and said; "We are going to get this done." I responded by saying; 'I know we are." I couldn't help myself and just had to tell him; "I am very proud of you." He was touched and said to me, "Thank you for your service."

I had tears running down my face when they took the photo and a renewed commitment to keep working until those words equal treatment become a reality for all our military families.