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Op-ed: Lessons of 9/11 Remind Us That Equality Matters

Op-ed: Lessons of 9/11 Remind Us That Equality Matters


Commemorating the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is especially poignant for me, both as a veteran who was personally touched by the events of that day and as a patriot who served under the veil of silence imposed by the "don't ask, don't tell" law for much of my career.

Like most Americans, I still remember exactly where I was and what I was doing on that tragic day.

At 8:30 a.m., I attended 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 very same space I had just left minutes earlier, killing seven of my colleagues.

Had I been among them, my partner, Lynne Kennedy, would have been one of the last to find out. That's because, as a lesbian Navy captain who had more than 29 years of military service, I was living under the daily burden of "don't ask, don't tell" and acting at work as if Lynne didn't exist. Although we had been together for more than 11 years, I had to keep Lynne -- and every aspect of our relationship -- a total secret. That meant not listing her in any of my paperwork, not even on emergency contact information.

Up until September 11, Lynne and I coped under the stress of DADT. I pretended to be straight and played the games gays in the military were expected to play. However, each morning I got up, went to work, and wondered if that day would be my last. Would I be fired because someone had figured out I was gay?

In the days and weeks that followed, I attended funerals and memorial services for shipmates who had been killed in the Pentagon attack. Our perspective changed. I realized just how alone Lynne would have been if I had been killed, and all because under "don't ask, don't tell" she wasn't allowed to exist.

The military prides itself in looking after its own, in coming together as the "military family," especially when crisis strikes. But because we were a gay military couple living under DADT, that support would not have been available to Lynne if I had been injured or killed in the line of duty.

Coming to terms with the harsh reality of DADT made us realize that the price we were paying under this law was much higher than either of us ever dared admit.

Nine months later, in June 2002, I retired after 29 and a half years from the U.S. Navy, an organization I will always love and respect. During the nine years after September 11, 2001, I became a staunch and determined advocate of repealing DADT, testifying before Congress, joining the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, and sharing my story of life under DADT via TV and radio, in newspapers, and in various speaking venues across the country. And after years of hard work from veterans, supporters, and allies everywhere, our collective efforts finally paid off.

The military -- and our nation -- took an enormous step toward greater equality with the passage and signing of legislation in December that set in motion a process to end DADT. In a few days, gays and lesbians will no longer have to serve under the burden of this discriminatory law. Starting September 20, all qualified Americans who want to defend their country can do so, free from the fear of being fired for something as irrelevant as sexual orientation.

Ending DADT, however, does not end injustice for LGBT families or couples in the military. Much more work must be done before gay service members and their loved ones are no longer treated as second-class citizens.

Because of the Defense of Marriage Act and the definition of "spouse" in Title X, even in the post-repeal military, the partners, spouses, and children of LGBT service members will still not receive the same range of benefits and support that is available to their straight counterparts.

This weekend we remember how Americans came together on September 11, 2001, standing as one for the cause of protecting liberty when it came under attack.

Ten years later, Americans are once again coming together, this time to celebrate the end of DADT and the beginning of a new chapter for our military. Although areas of inequality remain in the ranks, we can draw renewed inspiration from the enduring values of freedom that unite Americans to ultimately do what is right.

Capt. Joan Darrah served as a Naval intelligence officer for nearly 30 years in the United States and in Spain before retiring in 2002.

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