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A call to duty

A call to duty

A lesbian Navy captain recalls how the events of 9/11 forever changed the way she serves her country.

In response to September 11, 2001, many people felt called to military service in order to do something to defend our great country. September 11 had the opposite impact on my life. At 8:30 a.m. that day, I went to a meeting in the Pentagon. At 9:30 a.m., I left that meeting. At 9:37 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon and destroyed the exact space I had left less than eight minutes earlier, killing seven of my colleagues.

On September 11, 2001, I was a lesbian Navy captain who, at that time, had over 28 years of dedicated military service. My partner, Lynne Kennedy, an openly gay reference librarian at the Library of Congress, and I had been together for over 11 years. Each day, I went to work wondering if that would be the day I would be fired because someone had figured out I was gay. In spite of that stress, somehow Lynne and I had learned to deal with "don't ask, don't tell"; we had made the requisite sacrifices. I had pretended to be straight and had played the games most gays in the military are all too familiar with.

But after September 11 our perspective changed dramatically. In the days and weeks that followed, I went to at least seven funerals and memorial services for shipmates who had been killed in the Pentagon attack. As the numbness began to wear off, it hit me how incredibly alone Lynne would have been had I been killed. The military is known for how it pulls together and helps people; we talk of the "military family" which is a way of saying we always look after each other, especially in times of need. But none of that support would have been available for Lynne, because under "don't ask, don't tell," she couldn't exist. In fact, had I been killed, Lynne would have been one of the last people to know, because nowhere in my paperwork or emergency contact information had I dared to list Lynne's name. This realization caused us both to stop and reassess exactly what was most important in our lives. During that process we realized that "don't ask, don't tell" was causing us to make a much bigger sacrifice than either of us had ever admitted.

Nine months later--in June 2002--I retired after 29 years in the U.S. Navy, an organization I will always love and respect.

Today, six years after that fateful day at the Pentagon, I am now committed to doing everything I possibly can to get rid of "don't ask, don't tell" so our military can finally be open to all qualified and motivated individuals who want to serve their country. This is the right step for our country, for our military, and for all gays and lesbians. I have great love and respect for our country, but I know we can do better than "don't ask, don't tell."

-- As told to Steve Ralls

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