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Gratitude and commitment

Watching Tuesday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I was moved to tears by Admiral Mullen’s statement:

My personal belief is that allowing homosexuals to serve openly would be the right thing to do. I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me, it comes down to integrity -- theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.

Like many of you reading this post, I have been working on this issue for many, many years. It has been 17 years to be exact - ever since I publicly came out in 1993 as a political statement to encourage then President-elect Clinton to lift the ban on gay and lesbian military service.

So to hear our most senior U.S. military officer bravely and eloquently describe this law as being in conflict with the military’s core value of integrity was historic. I had always hoped I would see this day, but I didn’t realize how hard it would hit me when the moment came. An institution that had at one time deemed me unworthy of service because I dared speak the truth might finally be changing its mind. At least its leadership has. And for Admiral Mullen’s courage, I am tremendously grateful. He seems, at least from his words yesterday, to get it.

When I advocate for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Capitol Hill, in the media, or in classrooms across the country, I repeat the practical arguments: The law is costly, we are weakening our military readiness by discharging fully capable troops, more than 24 other countries allow gays and lesbians to serve with no reported negative impact to readiness, retention or recruitment. Deep down though, my driving passion is the knowledge it is the right thing to do. An estimated 66,000 brave gay and lesbian service members currently in uniform wake up every morning wondering if today is the day they will be turned in, investigated, or forced to lie about who they are. Every day they put their lives on the line for a country that denies them equal citizenship. Every day they hear arguments for and against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and even though they are the ones most affected by the law, they are not allowed to participate in the debate for fear of exposing themselves to suspicion, investigation or discharge.

It was refreshing to hear Chairman Levin and Senators Udall, McCaskill, Burris, Lieberman, and Snowe advocate repeal. In my opinion, Senators McCain and Chambliss sounded like cranky old men clinging on to the 1993 debate and out of touch with the realities of 2010. Their strongest argument was a document supporting DADT signed by 1,100 retired flag officers, most of whom are well into their 70’s and never served under the ban.

Today, I take a brief moment to recognize the significance of yesterday’s testimony. I also fully recognize the job is not nearly done. There is no “Mission Accomplished” banner flying overhead. We still have a long way to go. I am deeply disappointed that the Pentagon is proposing a yearlong study of the potential impact of repeal. We don’t need another study – we have the 1993 RAND study that concluded openly gay service members would not present a detriment to unit cohesion and morale. We have the experience of 24+ other countries that allow gays and lesbians to serve openly. We have my experience serving as an open lesbian for 13 years with no negative impact to the effectiveness or cohesion of my units.

Gays and lesbians are currently serving alongside their heterosexual counterparts – this is not the major logistical implementation challenge posed by the integration of women and African-Americans into the military. Every day we delay repealing this discriminatory law is another day a patriotic soldier, sailor, marine or airman faces the potential end to their career.

So we must put pressure on the Pentagon, the White House, and Congress to include repeal language in the 2010 Defense Authorization bill and do what they can to suspend or minimize discharges in the interim. This study can inform Congress on how the implementation should best be carried out, but not whether repeal should happen. The two can run parallel – the study and congressional action to overturn the law. One does not need to wait for the other. Let’s get the law overturned THIS YEAR.

I’m fully committed to doing everything I can to make it happen. Please join me in the fight!!!