It may be hard to believe that just over five years ago, highly trained gay, lesbian and bisexual service members were fired because of their sexual orientation. I was one of those service members. As a U.S. Marine who honorably served our nation, I was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) simply because I refused to continue to lie about the fact I am gay. Service members like me were forced to hide who they are in order to serve our country.
That all changed on December 22, 2010, when President Barack Obama signed into law a bill repealing DADT and placing it where it belongs – in the dustbin of history. For 17 years, the law prohibited qualified gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans from serving in the Armed Forces and sent a message that discrimination was acceptable. HRC was proud to play a crucial role in that fight to end the ban. While the repeal didn’t heal the profound damage DADT inflicted on the lives of so many veterans and their families, the ban was finally over.
A new chapter began for our nation’s military. As a proud Marine veteran married to an active duty Marine, I’ve watched as my spouse was finally able to serve openly and honestly, no longer being forced to hide who he is. With the fall of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the military soon after finally began recognizing same-sex spouses, and I finally had access to the resources and support other military spouses often take for granted – critical benefits and programs that help with the demands of military life. This year, the Pentagon also finally added non-discrimination protections for gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members to the military’s equal opportunity program, helping to ensure that all service members – regardless of their sexual orientation – have a tool to address unfair and unjust discrimination. It’s been quite the journey getting to where we are today.
However, there’s more to accomplish in our fight for full LGBT equality in the military. Thousands of transgender service members and their families are still forced to serve in silence. While the repeal of DADT lifted the ban on gay, lesbian and bisexual service members, outdated military policies and regulations still prevent transgender service members from serving authentically. Thankfully, that’s hopefully all about to change very soon.
In July, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made a historic announcement establishing a working group to study the “policy and readiness implications” of allowing transgender service members to serve openly. The working group started “with the presumption that transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness, unless and except where objective, practical impediments are identified.” With the sixth month time frame of that study set to end in January, we are eager to move forward to a new era – one where all service members, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.