Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Happy Repeal Day!

Gary Ross, 33, and his partner Dan Swezy, 49, traveled from their home in Arizona all the way to Vermont to take advantage of the state's allowance of gay marriage to take their vows and enter into committed, legally-recognized same-sex matrimony.  This in itself isn't necessarily newsworthy - Vermont has allowed same-sex marriage for quite some time now.  However, what makes this story special is that Gary Ross is known professionally as Navy Lt. Gary Ross and when he reports back to work he'll still have a job.

At 12:01 AM, Don't Ask, Don't Tell was officially and fully repealed for all branches of the US Military.  This occasion has been termed "Repeal Day" and has been marked with a revolution of sorts - a revolution of gay servicemen and women coming out.  Some, like Lt. Ross, are even getting married.  Most, like Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan, proudly came out publicly, though they didn't all do it during an MSNBC news cast.  Perhaps the most touching video I've seen so far to come out of "Repeal Day" was made by an unnamed soldier posting under the Youtube account "AreYouSurprised", who has been anonymously telling his story of being a soldier under DADT but finally called his father to come out and recorded it live.  Here's the incredibly emotional 7 minute video:

For all the things that are asked of our soldiers, I think this might be one of the bravest acts I've ever seen.  Anyone would be nervous and scared to come out to their parents for the first time, but to do so live on video is almost unimaginable.  This guy is a hero and this video brought tears to my eyes.  I'm proud to know that men like this are defending my country.

Since 1993, over 14,000 men and women have been discharged from the military for violation of DADT.  That's roughly 2 soldiers per day.  That's a lot of brave men and women who could have served and defended our nation proudly who were denied the opportunity to do so.  We're at war, our nation cannot afford to turn away able-bodied servicemen and women simply because of their sexual orientation and thankfully now they no longer have to.

The Army was the first branch of the armed forces to fully comply with the DADT repeal and they released a great press statement that spoke of pride and honor and dignity.  They praised their gay soldiers and reiterated their commitment to always be a proud example of the exceptionalism of our modern military.  It's a pride that is well-deserved and I give all the credit and praise to our military leaders for carrying out the repeal of DADT dutifully and honorably.

To me, this is something that goes far beyond simply the military restriction on gay enlisted men and women.  This is a real milestone in the advancement of gay rights and equality in our country.  Yes, once again the US is behind the curve in reaching that milestone - countries like Australia and Israel have allowed openly gay servicemen and women for years now - but late is always better than never.  More importantly is the effect that the repeal of DADT will almost certainly have on the state of equality for gays in other aspects of our society.

When the military first allowed women to serve, it too was met with resistance and those who thought it would be detrimental to the strength of our military.  Of course, women proved that they were more than capable of serving with honor and distinction and soon the issue of allowing them to participate in combat operations was brought forward.  That too was met with resistance and criticism and once again, those doubts were allayed.  Now, the question asked is what will the repeal of DADT and the allowance of openly-gay soldiers mean for our military?  Well, if history is any indicator, it will only result in a stronger, prouder and more accomplished fighting force.

It's more than just overcoming the hurdle of military service that milestones like this represent.  When women proved that they could serve alongside men in the military, it had a positive ripple effect in the civilian world as well.  Women's equality in general took a leap forward on the backs of those brave service women.  Likewise, when openly gay soldiers prove that their sexuality has nothing to do with their ability to serve honorably and admirably, it too will have a positive effect on the entire gay community as a whole.  When gay soldiers carry out their duty with valor, when they are awarded with medals for bravery and actions above and beyond that call of duty, it will further strengthen the climate of tolerance and acceptance that took a major step forward today with the repeal of DADT.  Historically, this will be a defining moment for the LGBT community.  It will be the day that our government, on behalf of the entire nation, said to those brave men and women "You will henceforth be judged not by who or what you are but by your service, your commitment and your loyalty to the uniform you're wearing."

How will it change the attitude of a young man from perhaps a small town, who never met a gay person and only knew the stereotypes and prejudices he grew up with when he is pulled out of a firefight by a gay member of his squad?  How will it change the attitude of that man to know that a gay man saved his life?  What lessons will he return home with?  When straight soldiers fight alongside gay ones and realize that they're all brothers when they put on that uniform, that they're all looking out for each other and that they can all count on each other to lay their own lives on the line to protect each other, how will that affect their attitudes towards gays when they come back to their communities?  When that small-town boy returns from his tour in Iraq or Afghanistan and he knows that a gay soldier saved his life, whether it be directly by pulling him out of harms way or indirectly just by simply being a dependable member of the team watching his back, what new perspective will he bring back with him?  How will he raise his children with this new knowledge and experience?  How will his own attitude be changed and how will he pass that tolerance and acceptance to the next generation?

It's a big deal, a very big deal.  It's an opportunity for LGBT men and women to not only say that they are deserving of equal treatment, but to prove it.  When you win the respect of your fellow soldiers, that means something.  When our bravest men and women accept you as an equal, the rest of the country soon will follow.  When a medal of honor gets placed around the neck of a proud and open gay or lesbian soldier, that's more than just a sign of respect and acknowledgment of exceptional service, that's an honor bestowed upon every gay service man and woman who fought to make this day possible.  It's an honor for the over 14,000 men and women who were discharged for who they were, it's an honor for the countless thousands more who served with their sexuality hidden from everyone.  Most of all, it's an honor for those closeted gay soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that one day our country would be truly free enough to allow their brothers and sisters to serve openly and honorably.

Attitudes are going to be changed.  The new generation is ready, willing and able to accept openly gay military men and women with open arms.  The old fears, ignorance and stereotypes will soon fade away, like they did for allowing blacks and minorities to serve, like they did for allowing women to serve.  Soon, gays will be treated just like everyone else and perhaps soldiers like Lt. Gary Ross won't have to drive all the way across the country in order to marry their partners.  That will be a proud and patriotic day, indeed.

Happy Repeal Day.  It feels good to see America moving forward, it renews my faith in our country to see that we're still capable of progress.

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