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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 31, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 53
Bearing witness to history as Obama signs DADT repeal
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Bearing witness to history as Obama signs DADT repeal

A firsthand account from the White House by Seattle's Joe Mirabella

by Joe Mirabella - Special to the SGN

Rarely do we get the opportunity to witness history that is destined to change the way millions of Americans live their lives for generations to come. I had one of those opportunities last week when President Obama signed the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' into law.

On Monday evening, December 20, I received an invitation from the White House to be a guest at the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' signing ceremony at the Department of the Interior in Washington D.C. I was surprised to receive the invitation, to be honest. I was not a major donor, and I have even been critical of the president's momentum on LGBT rights in the past. Presidential invitations are rare. Even rarer are the opportunities to see firsts by presidents. So, I said yes.

The morning of the signing, I lined up with my friends who were also invited. We had to line up at 7 a.m., two hours before the event. While it was cold outside, the feeling among those in line was clearly warm and celebratory. GetEqual's Robin McGeeHee arrived shortly after I did with her young son. She was greeted by hugs by many of the people in line, including one from me.

Once inside, we had about an hour to mingle with the crowd. It was a who's who of the Gay rights movement. David Mixner sat near the front and several people came by to say hi and hug him. Lance Black was there, Barney Frank came in right before the event began - it was incredible to be able to mingle with them.

I spent most of my time talking with my friends, the people I've become close to via social networks and my podcast SameSexSunday - like Megan Stabler, JD Smith, Adam Bink, Chris Geidner, Bil Browning, Rick Jacobs, Heather Cronk, and many others. For some of us, this was our first opportunity to meet in person, so I savored every fleeting moment - all while an overwhelming sense of history filled my spirit. It felt fitting, in a way, that this cast of characters was all in the same room. We have all been talking our heads off for the last two years about DADT, so it was nice to spend this moment with them. At the same time, I was impressed the White House was not afraid to invite all of us, even when some of us had been critical of the Obama administration.

When the president spoke, my mind was racing with so many thoughts I could hardly hear his speech. What will this mean for our future? How did we get here? How the hell did I get here? Where do we go from here? That is the president of the United States standing right in front of me. Barack Obama is right there!

And then, with a crescendo of speech about equality - 'All men and women are created equal' - the president walked over to a small desk to sign the repeal. I struggled to photograph the moment, as did everyone else. This was the first time in U.S. history that a standalone bill designed for the Gay and Lesbian community ever became law. It was a turning point that needed to be documented and witnessed.

After the signing, the president did a quick round of handshakes and it was over.

I didn't really feel the power of the moment until later that afternoon, when Equal Rights Washington's Thomas Pitchford picked me up. He happened to be in town and he wanted to hang out before I left for Seattle. He and his partner used to live in D.C., and he wanted me to see a few sights before I left.

They brought me to the Lincoln Memorial where we searched the steps for the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his 'I Have a Dream' speech. I stood there, looking out over the reflecting pool with the Washington Monument in the distance partially blocking the setting sun. I felt a tremendous connection to history that continues to move me now as I write this. Just as the 'I Have a Dream' speech was a pivotal point in the Civil Rights movement for African Americans, the the signing of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal by our country's first African American president has changed everything moving forward.

Yes, our community still has a long way to go towards achieving full equality under the law. Just as important as serving openly in the military, we need to be able to live openly in every corner of this country without fear for our lives, jobs, and homes.

But now that we are deemed worthy to fight and die for our country, it shouldn't be too long for those in power to see we are worthy to live as equals throughout this country. We still have an incredible amount of work ahead of us, but I cannot wait to witness the positive changes to come.

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LGBT Washington reflects on 2010
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Bearing witness to history as Obama signs DADT repeal
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Equal Rights Washington looks ahead to 2011
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DOMA repeal next, Biden says
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Ten Utah municipalities pass anti-discrimination ordinances
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McGinn orders a review of Gay bars being unfairly scrutinized
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The OutField: Looking back at 2010
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Neil Rogers, Gay radio pioneer, dies
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