DADT repeal a long time coming
I remember when I first heard about "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT).
It was July of 2000, it was summer vacation and, naturally, I was obsessed with MTV's "The Real World: New Orleans." My favorite houseguest was 23-year-old Danny with his playful grin, spiky hair, sleepy blue eyes and soul patch. He was the first young and out gay guy that I ever "knew." He was cheerful and funny, charming and comfortable. But more than all of that, he was proud. To me, Danny was proof that not all gay men were scared, lonely and depressed. Before long, I became emotionally invested in him and could hardly wait for the episode when we would finally meet his much-talked-about boyfriend.
About halfway into the season, we learned that prior to being cast on the show, Danny had begun a relationship with a guy named Paul who was a U.S. Army officer. Danny described Paul to his housemates as smart, spontaneous and handsome – all the good stuff we all respectively dream about. I was so excited to "meet" him. Except I never really had the chance to. Because of the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, Paul's face was blurred each time he appeared on camera.
I was naïve and uninformed, and I didn't get it. What the hell was "don't ask, don't tell?" Why could we see Danny's face but not Paul's? Why was I suddenly reminded that homosexuality was something that should be masked, hidden and shamed? I was embarrassed and angry. I was taught that fear, discrimination and hate were ugly – not people who were committed to their partners and bravely served their country. He fought for our freedom, but he wasn't free to kiss the man he loved.
It wasn't until 2004 that we got to see Paul's face, when he and Danny appeared together on an MTV special. And it wasn't until this past Tuesday that the hideous stain on the fabric of America known as "don't ask, don't tell" was scrubbed out forever. After 18 years and the discharges of nearly 15,000 servicemen and women, the U.S. military can no longer prevent gays from serving openly. That's right, if you look up "sexual orientation and military service" on Wikipedia, we're one of the countries colored in baby blue on the little map.
Pending investigations, discharges and other administrative proceedings that began under DADT will be discontinued, service members who were discharged under it will be allowed to re-enlist and the integrity of the U.S. military will be restored. Of course, the battle over equal rights and protection under the law for the LGBT community is far from over. There is still the contentious issue over changes to eligibility standards for military benefits for same-sex couples, but that matter has more to do with the pretended and abusive Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) rather than DADT.
There isn't much else for me to write and praise about concerning the repeal of DADT, apart from recognizing the less flashy, more intimate moments that this righting of a wrong has allowed to unfold. For instance, hours after the repeal went into effect, a young American soldier stationed in Germany called his father in Alabama to tell him that he is gay. The anonymous soldier recorded the phone call with his father and uploaded the video onto YouTube. Visibly nervous, the soldier said to his father, "Can I tell you something? Will you love me, period? Like…you'll always love me? Dad, I'm gay." The father assures his son that he still loves him and that nothing changes their relationship.
This tender moment between a father and his son, and so many more similar to it, should not necessitate fear or worry or shame. These moments aren't anomalies – they are what life and love are all about. These moments are fleeting, but they're bearing is definite.
The repeal of DADT is a giant leap in the right direction, but the journey is not over. Too many faces are still blurred and not enough people have said, "I still love you."
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