My mind and heart are full of cascading thoughts and feelings today. For the most part, I think of the past, and the countless gay men and lesbians who have served their country with honor over the decades and centuries. Today is their day as much as it is that of the current gay servicemembers. They form a brigade through time that has finally marched into the open clearing of equal dignity.
Yes, the path of gay soldiers is unlike that of, say, African-American soldiers. Unlike the brutal exclusion and then segregation of African-Americans, gay soldiers were always in the ranks, just in a near-invisible cage of mandatory dishonesty and involuntary fear. But the impact of the emancipation into full and proud members of the military is as deep as for any other group of Americans. It means, as it did for the first black soldiers who fought for the union, that this country is truly theirs' for the first time - because they have finally been allowed to fight and die for it without lying about who they are. They have been relieved of the burden of mandatory shame. Only those who have labored under such crushing psychic pressure can know how truly liberating this feels.
It's been more than three decades since Leonard Matlovich appeared on the cover of Time magazine. It's been more than two decades since this struggle began to reach the realm of political possibility. From the painful non-compromise of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", through the big increase in discharges under president Clinton, via the wars and civil marriage breakthroughs of the first decade of the 21st Century to the calm and reasoned Pentagon report of December 2010, the path has been uneven. We need to remember this. We need to remember constantly that any civil rights movement will be beset with reversals, with dark periods, with moments when the intensity of the despair breaks the hardiest of souls.