Celebrating Future Gay Military Heroes

By Steve Clemons

soldiers saluting.jpgWe have had gay generals and captains, colonels, lieutenants, staff sergeants, airmen, and admirals in the past -- many of them -- who have fought and sacrificed for the country. 

For the most part, these men and women have had to hide who they were if they wanted to serve.  Many, particularly enlisted men and women, joined the uniformed military services out of high school discovering that he or she might be gay or lesbian along the way.

It was a shameful deal between Pentagon commanders and then US Senator Sam Nunn on one side and Bill Clinton on the other that resulted in gays only being able to serve in the US military if they hid their true selves.  This was the purgatory of Don't Ask Don't Tell.  As Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen stated on many occasions, this state of affairs forced a moral crisis on those who served -- and this policy itself was immoral.

Today, one of the most bigoted and discriminatory laws passed in modern times fades completely from the scene.  Gays may now serve openly in the services without fear of being discharged or officially harassed.

Here is a copy (pdf version) of the US Air Force memorandum that went out today, as I assume similarly went out in other of the uniformed services, under the signatures of Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley, USAF Chief of Staff General Norton A. Schwartz, and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James A. Roy.

As someone who has for years thought DADT was an outrageous, unacceptable mistake -- I am really moved by the rhythmic bureaucrateze of this memorandum which ends discrimination against gays.  It's a wonderful note that I am reading over and over again.

Barack Obama got this right -- and his team did too.  Former White House Deputy Outreach Director Brian Bond and OMP Director John Barry, Senator Joseph Lieberman, SLDN Founder and former Director Dixon Osburn, current SLDN director Aubrey Sarvis, gay rights leader Jeffrey Trammell, former Congressman Patrick Murphy, Admiral Michael Mullen, Senator Carl Levin, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates -- so many servicemen who are gay and those who aren't who filled out surveys revealing that the switch to an anti-discriminatory service structure would not be a big deal. 

Shame on Michele Bachmann for considering a return to Don't Ask Don't Tell. That is such a short-sighted position, threatening any group that achieved their rights with the possibility of losing them again.  She needs to think hard about the evolution of gender rights and civil rights in this country -- and take another shot at getting her position in more modern and less bigoted territory.

photo credit: Reuters   

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/09/celebrating-future-gay-military-heroes/245393/