DADT’s End Sparks Celebrations, Underscores Remaining Disparities
The official repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," the 18-year-old law that kept gay and lesbian patriots out of the Armed Forces unless they were willing to keep their sexuality a closely guarded secret, is scheduled to take effect Sept. 20.
"Tomorrow is a historic day for gay and lesbian service members and our nation as a whole," said the head of the Human Right Campaign, Joe Solmonese, in a Sept. 19 media release.
" ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was a stain on our nation -- not only did it damage our military readiness and national security, but it sent a message that discrimination based upon sexual orientation was acceptable," Solmonese continued. "We know that not to be the case -- discrimination accomplishes nothing and tears at the fabric of our country’s strength.
"Beginning tomorrow, gay and lesbian service members previously discharged under DADT will have the opportunity to re-enlist," Solmonese noted. "Gay and lesbian Americans eager to serve the country but not willing to compromise who they are as individuals will, for the first time ever, be able to openly join. And brave men and women currently serving will have the freedom to come out and be honest with their comrades about who they are and who they love."
The anti-gay law served to keep highly qualified gay and lesbian servicemembers in the closet for fear of being separated from the service if their true sexuality was discovered. Despite the name by which it was popularly known, "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" could mean the end of a military career if a servicemember seeking to stay concealed as a gay or lesbian solider was outed by others, even when talent, hard work, exemplary conduct, and courage under fire led to commendations and stellar service records.
Previously closeted gay and lesbian troops are planning to come out publicly to mark the end of the anti-gay law. The co-founder and co-director of GLBT servicemember support group OutServe, JD Smith, is one such officer. The name JD Smith is a pseudonym, assumed to protect an Air Force officer who, according to a Sept. 19 media release, "graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy several years ago in a top cadet leadership position."
Smith has been an outspoken advocate of repeal, despite the danger his advocacy has posed to his career. On Sept. 20, at the presidential signing of the repeal, Smith will publicly emerge from the closet for the first time.
Even as the repeal of DADT was being hailed as a major milestone for GLBT Americans as a whole, equality advocates pointed out glaring inequalities that affect gay citizens in everyday life, including the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that denies same-sex couples marriage recognition on the federal level, leaving them liable for higher tax bills while at the same time making them ineligible for Social Security and other government benefits that heterosexual families are able to access.