The military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the one described in 1993 by President Bill Clinton as “an honorable compromise” that eventually destroyed thousands of careers, ended Tuesday at 12:01 a.m., nine months after Congress repealed the law.
Though September 20, 2011 may be remembered as much as a nonevent for the nation’s armed forces as it is a landmark day for equality, an official military memorandum on the end of DADT distributed Monday is striking nonetheless:
“From this day forward, gay and lesbian soldiers may serve in our Army with the dignity and respect they deserve,” Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh and Army officials wrote (see a PDF of the letter here). “For over 236 years, the U.S. Army has been an extraordinary force for good in the world. Our soldiers are the most agile, adaptable and capable warriors in history — and we are ready for this change.”
Lawmakers and defense officials will mark the occasion Tuesday without considerable pomp and circumstance. At 12:30 p.m. eastern time, a bipartisan group of senators instrumental to passage of “don’t ask, don’t tell” legislation — Sens. Carl Levin, Kirsten Gillibrand, Susan Collins, Mark Udall, and Joseph Lieberman — will be joined by representatives from Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Human Rights Campaign, and Outserve, whose co-director, known up to this point as J.D. Smith, has revealed his identity as Josh Seefried, a finance officer in the Air Force and 2009 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy.
“I personally felt it was important to come out of the closet on Day 1 to show that sexual orientation in the military will truly be a nonissue,” Seefried said. “Overseas we have seen that some militaries still do not have people that feel comfortable coming out with their sexual orientation, even years after the policy has changed. I hope that by coming out, along with the other military members who chose to come out publicly in the pages of our magazine, help to show our military was ready for this change.”
Later on Tuesday afternoon, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta will also hold a news conference at the Pentagon to discuss repeal.
The Associated Press reported Monday that the Defense Department had begun accepting applications from gay recruits, to be processed directly after the ban is lifted. "No one should be left with the impression that we are unprepared. We are prepared for repeal," Pentagon press secretary George Little said Monday.
Gay service member advocacy groups and their allies struck a justifiably victorious tone Monday evening, with countdown celebrations held throughout the country. “[T]hanks to the persistent hard work of unwavering advocates, especially those who have been directly impacted by this issue, and some courageous politicians over the past six years, Don't Ask, Don't Tell is now history,” Servicemembers United executive director Alex Nicholson said in a statement. “As a result, those who continue to serve can sleep easier tonight knowing that they can no longer be arbitrarily fired because of their sexual orientation. Justice has prevailed and don't ask, don't tell is dead. God bless America."
SLDN executive director Aubrey Sarvis said, “Our work is far from done, but today we pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of our patriots as we look forward to a new era of military service – one that honors the contributions of all qualified Americans who have served or who wish to serve.”
Religious and social conservative groups who have worked to undermine repeal at every step remain defiant, however. “[T]omorrow, the U.S. military becomes a tool in reshaping social attitudes regarding human sexuality,” Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said in a Monday statement. “Using the military to advance a liberal social agenda will only do harm to the military's ability to fulfill its mission."
The Advocate will cover Tuesday’s events and provide live updates via Advocate.com and Twitter from Capitol Hill, the Pentagon, and multiple celebration events to be held in Washington, D.C.