by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
At 9:35 a.m. 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (DADT) was dealt its final blow. The long wait is over and history was made as President Obama signed legislation repealing the discriminatory law. Now, for the first time in our nation's history, Gays and Lesbians can serve openly and without prejudice.
At a ceremony at the Interior Department, Obama thanked 'all the patriots & who were forced to hang up their uniforms' because of DADT - which dates to early 1993 in the Clinton administration.
Obama said all the service chiefs are committed to 'implementing this change swiftly.' He said that one day, people will look back and wonder 'why it was ever a source of controversy in the first place.'
Obama said he hopes all those who left the service because of the policy will seek to reenlist and he encouraged all Gays to consider service. 'Your country needs you, your country wants you, we will be honored to welcome you into the ranks,' he said.
Obama signed the repeal paperwork right after DADT hero Colonel Grethe Cammermeyer led the assembled 400 or so in the Pledge of Allegiance.
'Today, one hour ago, President Obama signed the repeal of the DADT law,' the retired Army nurse told Seattle Gay News. 'I started my struggle against the military ban against Gays and Lesbians in the service over 20 years ago thinking I could change the policy. But it has taken the efforts of thousands for today to become reality and over the next few months the repeal will be implemented.'
Cammermeyer was discharged for being a Lesbian in 1989 and was later reinstated by court order. She wrote her autobiography, Serving in Silence, which became a made-for-TV movie starring Glenn Close.
'The past two days of signings of the repeal, first by Leader Pelosi and today by President Obama, feels surreal. I pinch myself wondering if it was a dream,' she said. 'I had the privilege of leading the Pledge of Allegiance at the ceremony today and for the first time in years felt that the pledge included me. 'Liberty and justice for all' includes me today!'
The repeal of DADT is a major win for LGBT equality advocates but is also seen as a win for the White House, which has been trying to mend its relationship with the progressive base that helped put Obama in office. The stand-alone bill was a last ditch effort to pass repeal before the next Congress, when the bill would have almost surely been dead for two years with the House in Republican hands.
Obama said that, as Commander-in-Chief, he was 'absolutely convinced that making this change will only underscore the professionalism of our troops as the best led and best trained fighting force the world has ever known.'
He said he joins the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in 'knowing that we can responsibly transition to a new policy while ensuring our military strength and readiness.'
The transition from a DADT service to a Gay-friendly U.S. military has some feeling a little uneasy. But worry not, say the service chiefs, because Gays and Lesbians will be treated just like any other soldiers, sailors, airmen or marines.
The first order of business, say Pentagon officials, is the drafting of new regulations. To be clear, the rule changes under discussion won't dictate how troops feel about the change, but will strictly enforce how they act on it.
For the time being, the ban is still in place and Gay troops are not encouraged to come out to their commanders.
'The implementation and certification process will not happen immediately; it will take time,' Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz said in an e-mail to airmen after the Senate passed legislation repeal.
Recommendations to implement the repeal were outlined in a 67-page report last month and must now be formed into concrete regulations. Pentagon officials announced this week that there is no set timeline for how long it will take before defense officials complete the implementation plan, but they did certify that the change will not damage combat readiness.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says that the implementation plan will outline how to deal with a recruiter who refuses to process recruits who say they are Gay, or if a servicemember requests a new sleeping area away from a Gay roommate, and so on.
The health and social benefits are a shadowy area that the Pentagon says they are trying to work through.
In some cases, servicemembers may be able to designate a same-sex partner for benefits. In most cases, however, they are treated much like unmarried heterosexual couples - meaning that same-sex partners won't be able to share on-base housing, and commanders don't have to make allowances for same-sex couples when making duty assignments around the globe.
Still, Pentagon officials say this is just the early stages of planning; nothing is concrete. Gates has said the military will not drag out the implementation process, but it will move carefully and deliberately.
'Successful implementation will depend upon strong leadership, a clear message and proactive education throughout the force. With a continued and sustained commitment to core values of leadership, professionalism and respect for all, I am convinced that the U.S. military can successfully accommodate and implement this change, as it has others in history.'
Local Gay vets sound off
One local former Navy Lieutenant, Andrew Kamins, who served from 1995-2000 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and the destroyer USS Merrill (DD 976), says the repeal of DADT is just one step in the process of unraveling the mess the discriminatory policy has created.
'Only the DADT statute has been repealed. The policy remains in the UCMJ and is still the official rule governing LGBT servicemembers. Repealing the statute puts control of the policy back to where it was in 1993 prior to the statute,' Kamins told SGN. 'Repeal of the rule is now in the military's hands. President Obama and Secretary gates have acknowledged the costs of the policy and pledged to change it, but nothing actually compels them to do so, or governs the implementation or timeline for repeal. Presumably, the Ninth Circuit will stay the implementation of the court injunction doing away with DADT, but the court case has not yet been mooted and will probably not be dismissed until the actual policy is changed. I am cautiously optimistic that new rules will be put in place and implemented expeditiously, but it is still important to make sure that we continue monitoring.'
Kamins is an attorney with Patterson-Buchanan, a Belltown law firm, and serves as Treasurer for the Q-Law Foundation Board of Directors. He and his partner, Thomas Pitchford, live in Seattle.
'Of course this is a very major step for the country and for LGBT servicemembers,' said Kamins. 'It validates the honor, courage and commitment of LGBT soldiers, sailors, airman and marines who have, and continue to serve, and give their lives for their beliefs and their country. And it will make our military and our country stronger and more honorable. Living up to our own ideals is the very best way to show our friends and enemies that we still remain the shining city on the hill.'
Obviously we still have work to do, he said. 'We have to continue fighting for all of the Transgender servicemembers that the military policy does not acknowledge and we must continue fighting for the acknowledgment of spousal benefits and rights that are still unclear in light of the restrictions placed on the military by DOMA.'
For some, the repeal of DADT opened up the possibility of a return to service. One such person is Kirkland resident, Reyes Soler-Lozoya, a former sailor booted out under DADT.
'Now, the careers that were forcibly ended for over 14,000 men and women when they were given their discharge paperwork has been vindicated,' Reyes told SGN. 'After all the hard work of our community, volunteers and activists we can now celebrate the fruits of our labor. I am extremely proud knowing that my service was not only beneficial to our country's freedom, but now I can look back and say that I was part of history being made and that is definitely something my grandchildren will be able to talk to me about one day.'
Reyes, who lives with his partner NJ Soler-Lozoya in Kirkland has been an outspoken critic of DADT since he was discharged from active duty on December 6, 2005.
The moment the Senate voted to repeal DADT Reyes says his phone lit up with the roar of incoming text messages from friends and family members - and even a photo text of the final vote count.
'The rush of emotions that went through my body was a bit overwhelming, a sensation I had not felt since being formally discharged,' he recalled. 'I immediately woke up my partner, NJ, who had still been sleeping, but even in that victorious moment, words could not be formed into sentences and my sobbing told him all he needed to know. The rest of that day was a celebratory day as I donned my Dixie cup and ear-to-ear grin everywhere I went.'
Reyes asks where do we go from here? What's next? 'Now that anyone can serve in the military, regardless of sexual orientation, many questions about the future have come up,' he said. 'My partner and I have been in constant talks about what would happen if I would rejoin the military. While it is certain to be possible in the near future, those talks we have engaged in are still occurring and I will not shut that door until all possibilities have been considered.'
Reyes is on a personal mission to complete his educational goals and perhaps return to military service as a commissioned officer.
'I will continue in our efforts as a community to push towards full equality as Americans, with the inevitable defeat of DOMA, the necessary passage of ENDA, and of course, a way for our international families to become a whole and join us in our country through LGBT immigration reform,' he said. 'These may seem like long-shot goals, but there was also a time when people said the same about DADT. Look where we are today, and imagine the possibilities we can achieve as a strong, committed community.'
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