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Board Blog Number 2: I Was a Teenage Midshipman, or How I Learned to Love the End of DADT
In the summer of 1995 I began what I thought would be my dream. Standing in the glaring hot sun of a June day in Annapolis, I took the oath as a Midshipman at the Naval Academy. I remember I smirked a bit as I got to the part about "mental reservation or purpose of evasion", because I knew that I had a secret, one that the recently passed 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (DADT) rules would force me to keep. With a young man's sense of invincibility, I was sure I could do it. I convinced myself I would rise to the highest ranks in the Navy and then, in my autobiography, tell the world who I really was.
I didn't make it nine weeks - a story for another day and several cocktails - and spent the next four years struggling to redefine a life that had been all wrapped up in the dream of a military career.
In the fifteen years that have followed that summer of 1995, countless more of our LGBT brothers and sisters have found themselves coping with dreams and lives shattered by DADT. Now, in less than two months, that failed social experiment will finally end, and the bravery and dedication of our community will be recognized for what it is: the product of LGBT heroes who were and are no less patriots than any of their heterosexual comrades-in-arms.
For what my very humble two cents are worth, the end of DADT is the beginning of the last chapter in the long, seesawing struggle for full LGBT equality in America. Not that the chapter will be brief, nor that the ending of the story is already written. But, if there is one segment of society universally respected enough to serve as a truly winning counter-weight to the strength and diffusion of Christian and right-wing anti-LGBT groups, it is the military. In a congressional hearing, it may be easy for our opponents to assail 'ordinary' LGBT Americans who demand their equal rights; not so easy to do, I suspect, when that LGBT American is a wounded veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan. Moreover, I wonder whether the military services would or could long sustain the cumbersome and 'squishy' work-arounds that State has implemented to accommodate our same-sex spouses and partners, before going to Congress and demanding that legal impediments to integrating LGBT families in the military support structure be removed.
That, though, is the future to which we all look with hope. For the present, there is important work for GLIFAA to do as we approach the date-certain for DADT's end. A good number of military members serve at our missions abroad under the Chief of Mission's authority. We want to ensure that LGBT members and their families are made welcome and supported by the official mission community. State also has responsibility for negotiating the agreements under which our troops are based in foreign countries, and we are keen to prevent the language in those documents from inadvertently barring or discriminating against LGBT service members and their families. Finally, as an organization with 20 years of experience and no little success in fighting for LGBT rights in a national security organization, we want to share our experiences with our brothers and sisters at Defense as they begin their journey toward equality and inclusion.
To this end, we have created a working group on DADT repeal that is exploring how GLIFAA and the foreign affairs community can support our LGBT military colleagues. The results will speak for themselves come September, when all of you will see State taking positive steps to welcome the end of discrimination in our armed forces. On a personal level, I have been blown away at the dedication shown by Antonio Agnone and Aaron Jost, who are leading the group, as well as by the cadre of volunteers who have offered their time and talents to this historic opportunity.
All of which is a subtle (okay, not-so-subtle) plug to the rest of you GLIFAA-ites to be on the look out for other working groups and committees we will be forming to help the Board tackle all of our top priority issues. From by-laws reform, to J-1 visa implementation, to the integration of LGBT rights advocacy into traditional human rights reporting, these ad hoc groups will be the backbone of GLIFAA's work this coming year. The more hands we have on any given problem, the more we can accomplish without asking one or two people to shoulder an impossible burden. This model is succeeding beyond my wildest expectations on DADT repeal, and I know we can count on all of you to make it equally successful on a host of other topics.
As always, you know where to find me: email@example.com. In addition, if you have thoughts on DADT repeal and the role we can play, feel free to email the working group at firstname.lastname@example.org. Finally, you can now reach the entire Board with a single email to email@example.com.
Oh, and go easy on the midshipman jokes the next time you see me. I looked good in that uniform, thank you very little!
Pride. Every Day. The World Over.