Moments ago, the Senate took a key vote that will lead to the end of the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy that has resulted in the firing of 14,000+ service members. The policy, passed 17 years ago, has forced tens-of thousands more American troops to lie in order to serve their country.
DADT has not been repealed. Today's actions by the Senate simply allows repeal efforts to move forward. A final vote on the bill will occur later today, but the 63-33 vote for cloture all but assures passage of the repeal measure.
Once the bill is signed into law, the President, Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will then need to certify that the repeal should be implemented. Even then, a 60 day waiting period will be need to pass before DADT is truly repealed.
We recently received a note from one of our members who lived trough the horror of having to serve in silence while living through the loss of her life partner due to cancer. We're posting her story below as a reminder of how this harmful policy has done nothing to support national security but has caused enormous hardship for thousands upon thousands of brave service members.
An Aviator's Story:
"Land of the free? With Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in place, not quite. As a nation, we pride ourselves as the “land of the free, and the home of the brave.” Undeniably, we are the “Home of the brave” – but the human injustice that gay and lesbian service members endure due to DADT is at an unacceptable price. I am a military aviator. I am also a Lesbian. It seems ludicrous to me that gay and lesbian service members are ordered to fight wars that protect the freedoms that they themselves do not possess. I am writing this op-ed to bear witness to the heartache DADT has caused me personally while proudly and willingly serving my country.
By its very existence, the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy promotes rather than prevents discrimination within our Armed Forces. In laymens’ terms, the policy translates to: if you are Gay or Lesbian, you can serve your country but you are ineligible to exercise your First Amendment right to free speech. How is such a counterintuitive statement a possibility?
A day of my life that I will never forget is the day my life partner of many years was diagnosed with cancer. A routine surgery to remove a “cyst” ended up being one of the worst days of our lives, a diagnosis neither of us expected. When the doctor came to the waiting room and asked me to come into the hallway, his words were deafening. I am no different than any other military officer -- we are collectively known for our poker faces and bearing -- but after those words, I lost all ability to remain composed and broke down, sobbing. The most prominent thought running through my mind was, “I love this woman beyond measure and cannot imagine my life without her.”
We forged ahead. Our mindset was that we would fight cancer and win. American couples face this fight every day, but the majority do not have the complicating situation we had: we were a Lesbian couple, and one of us was serving in the military. …..
Because of Don’t ask Don’t Tell, and the necessity of keeping my relationship secret or losing my career, I had to watch my partner face the fight of her life, essentially alone. The emotional torture and anguish that came along with trying to care for her when I couldn't even speak her name, share her existence or legitimately ask for time off is unspeakably painful even now, nearly four years later. What I remember, instead of being with her during her last months on Earth, and savoring her last pain-free moments and the incredibly meaningful litany of “lasts” that a normal couple could cling to, is that every day that I went to work, not one person had a clue what my partner and I were facing, and I could never tell them – any of them. Had I been heterosexual, I would have been on the next plane home, able to comfort, care for, and console my family.
Her battle with this horrible disease was a long and arduous one. For two years, I had to lie in order to explain many ambiguous “days off”, work behind-the-scenes miracles to be there for her important appointments, major surgeries, first days of radiation and or chemotherapy, her test results and always, always more procedures. Thankfully, the stars aligned and I had some schedule flexibility to be able to be there for most of the important events. The logistics of being a Lesbian service member whose partner was gravely ill was unduly stressful on us both. After thoughtful discussion, we decided it best for me to stay in service. She asked me to stay focused, determined and ultimately, to help pave the way for change. She told me: "When it's pivotal, and when you find the right moment in time, share our story of "Radio Silence" and tell of how damaging this DADT policy was."
To further define the ridiculousness of our situation is that I was actually thankful that she died during a holiday, so I had time off without having to ask for it in order to plan her memorial service, arrange her cremation, and finalize her affairs. I had one week off, and I accomplished all of it in a blur of misery and shock. The very next Monday, I was back at work, in “radio silence”, with no ability or opportunity to seek comfort from my friends in my squadron. I also had to silently endure the anger I felt toward an institution that didn’t revere my grief as being equal to my heterosexual counterparts.
Although she will remain in my heart forever, and I have wonderful but faint and distant memories of what it felt like to hold my beloved’s hand, touch her face, or receive one of her remarkable and incredible hugs that only she could give, the feelings of anger and frustration I experienced because I could not be with her in her last moments are emotions that will never fade. Even though I intuitively know that I brought great comfort to her during her most difficult challenges, I know she would have breathed much easier had I been by her side every step of the way.
Repealing DADT means so much more than just allowing gay people to serve openly in the military. Repealing this policy would mean that proud military members like me can serve our country and live our lives without fear. Everyone should be able to hold the hand of a dying partner without giving it a second thought. My challenge to our country’s leadership is simple: Look to your right, and left. Would you deny your friend, colleague, and fellow American such a fundamental right? Could you tell him or her that your life and your relationships mean more than theirs? I couldn’t. "
Name withheld by EQFL