Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ask! Tell! This is a great day I say...

Yes Beatle, it's okay now. As of today, the ban on US service members serving openly has been lifted. I am thrilled on so many levels. Even though I have no connection myself to the military (more a Peace Corps type) I was always outraged by the idiocy of making people hide their sexual orientation. So they were held to incredibly high standards of honesty and integrity in their military lives, but basically had to commit lies of commission and ommission to stay in.

In the early 2000's I volunteered for several years help run a big annual fundraising gala for the Service Members Defense Network (SLDN). I met so many great people--many of whom had been forced to leave jobs they loved. Can you imagine how painful that was for them? SLDN was a lifeline for so many over the years. Frightened servicemen and women could call annonymously to get confidential help and advice from lawyers. At the same time the organization worked tirelessly to move legislation to bring the ban to an end.

At one gala dinner I had the honor of hearing Pat Kutteles speak about the horrific murder of her son Barry Winchell because he was "different". The more I learned the sadder and madder I got.

A writer named Randy Shilts wrote a book I read about 10 years ago called "Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the US Military". It really shocked and saddened me. I'll never forget learning about an Air Force Seargent named Leonard Matlovich. He died in 1983 and on his tombstone which he meant as a memorial to all gay veterans at Congressional Cemetary in DC, he arranged for the following inscription:

"When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men, and a discharge for loving one."

Powerful right? I kinda hope that he and everyone who has been on the fatal receiving end of violence against gays in the military is smiling from heaven today.

So, today is a great day. There is more to do though. Being open is great but partners/spouses of gay service members don't get the same treatment as straight spouses. There will have to be wider scale changes for that to happen, but a day like today gives me hope.

So thank you everyone associated with SLDN, including Dixon and Michelle, Jeff, Lara, Allen...the list goes on. You done good! -Monica

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