There was new-found freedom across the world last Thursday as gay U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan shouted with exhilaration that a federal appeals court order the day before here in the states officially stopped enforcement of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, putting our community members who are in the U.S. military one big step closer to revealing our sexual orientation without fear of retribution or dismissal. In legal terms, it’s been a long time coming as the Pentagon was told on the Wednesday after the 4th of July 2011 to cease investigations and discharges of service members in violation of the ban on gays serving openly in our military.
The Defense Department will comply with the court order and took steps that very day to begin informing military forces of the change. This milestone event was outlined in the law passed in December 2010 which also requires that every man and woman serving in U.S. military uniform to complete training courses about the end of the policy. The wimpy Clinton “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which began in late 1993, will officially end 60 days after our fearless President Obama’s written certification that such courses are ready to be implemented. Let freedom ring…and let everyone hear, loud and queer, from shore to shore!
“I’m ecstatic,” said one soldier stationed in Baghdad who joined other gay soldiers on Thursday night at a military coffee shop to celebrate. Meanwhile, in the steam room at my local YMCA near Barskdale AFB in Bossier City, LA, following our workouts, a young reservist expressed his freedom in a different way. Flashing a beautiful, pearly white smile through the hazy steam, he asked me, “Are towels required in here?” I answered judiciously and with no self interest, “Not required.” He left the room, hung his wet towel outside the door, and returned, flashing that same smile. Triggered by his question, I could sense he wasn’t from here as I opened up a refreshing conversation asking him if he was visiting.
He told me he was in the AF for a year, then revealed to his superiors that having a college education was more important. He requested and was given the opportunity to pursue his future and switch to being in the reserves during his college studies. He told me he was from a long lineage of military family, and introduced himself as Rich as he extended a firm handshake. Seeing my short crew cut, Rich asked if I was military. I explained that while my father and brother were Marines, it wasn’t right for me. There was silence. Immediately, the thought “don’t ask, don’t tell” crossed my mind in its new light, and I knew it was safe to move the conversation forward in a matter that I am certain would not have happened just a week before.
The next night, I met another young reservist while at the local arts theatre, the Robinson Film Center. We hit it off, so I invited him back to my place to continue our conversation. “I’m new to all this,” 21 year old Joe said. “I love women, but I really like the feeling of being with a man. I really want to explore this all. It feels good; it feels right!” I had well over a quarter of a century of newness on Joe, having had my first man on man sexual experience at 18 years old, and comfortably shared those experiences with him.
Over these last couple ensuing days, I embarked on several edifying conversations with my friends, most older like me; many, military wives; some gay, some straight. Not one of us thought about the power banning this policy would have on lives such as Rich’s and Joe’s. Up til now, these fine young men just starting their adult lives could have lost their livelihood, their income, their career, their education, their housing, their way of life for expressing their feelings and simply telling me who they were should I have not kept what once was their secret, but no longer holds any power. Their simple, honest, truthful behaviors now rang of freedom, not fear…and they could be who they are…proud members of the U.S. military, by choice, and proud members of the LGBT community, by birth.
As the days pass by and we head to full transparency in the military, LGBT, U.S. and world communities, optimism will rise as we realize how stupid, silly and senseless DADT was. Today I read a quote from an Air Force staff sergeant at Bagram who quoted his commander, “Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t care, doesn’t matter. We have a war to fight that is much more important.”
We all have another war to fight and win. In their ruling last Wednesday, the three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, noted that the Obama administration has said it thinks another federal law and Clinton monstrosity — the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages — is unconstitutional. Fly your flag high and fight the fight. Freedom will ring louder and queerer, still. It starts with Barack and Andrew…Rich and Joe…me and you.