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DADT’s End Sparks Celebrations, Underscores Remaining Disparities

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Sep 20, 2011

The official repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the 18-year-old law that kept gay and lesbian patriots out of the Armed Forces unless they were willing to keep their sexuality a closely guarded secret, is scheduled to take effect Sept. 20.

"Tomorrow is a historic day for gay and lesbian service members and our nation as a whole," said the head of the Human Right Campaign, Joe Solmonese, in a Sept. 19 media release.

" 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' was a stain on our nation -- not only did it damage our military readiness and national security, but it sent a message that discrimination based upon sexual orientation was acceptable," Solmonese continued. "We know that not to be the case -- discrimination accomplishes nothing and tears at the fabric of our country's strength.

"Beginning tomorrow, gay and lesbian service members previously discharged under DADT will have the opportunity to re-enlist," Solmonese noted. "Gay and lesbian Americans eager to serve the country but not willing to compromise who they are as individuals will, for the first time ever, be able to openly join. And brave men and women currently serving will have the freedom to come out and be honest with their comrades about who they are and who they love."

The anti-gay law served to keep highly qualified gay and lesbian servicemembers in the closet for fear of being separated from the service if their true sexuality was discovered. Despite the name by which it was popularly known, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" could mean the end of a military career if a servicemember seeking to stay concealed as a gay or lesbian solider was outed by others, even when talent, hard work, exemplary conduct, and courage under fire led to commendations and stellar service records.

Previously closeted gay and lesbian troops are planning to come out publicly to mark the end of the anti-gay law. The co-founder and co-director of GLBT servicemember support group OutServe, JD Smith, is one such officer. The name JD Smith is a pseudonym, assumed to protect an Air Force officer who, according to a Sept. 19 media release, "graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy several years ago in a top cadet leadership position."

Smith has been an outspoken advocate of repeal, despite the danger his advocacy has posed to his career. On Sept. 20, at the presidential signing of the repeal, Smith will publicly emerge from the closet for the first time.

Even as the repeal of DADT was being hailed as a major milestone for GLBT Americans as a whole, equality advocates pointed out glaring inequalities that affect gay citizens in everyday life, including the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that denies same-sex couples marriage recognition on the federal level, leaving them liable for higher tax bills while at the same time making them ineligible for Social Security and other government benefits that heterosexual families are able to access.

To draw attention to those remaining disparities, equality advocacy group GetEQUAL announced an event dubbed the "Day of Discontent," timed for Sept. 20, the same day as repeal.

"In more than a dozen cities across the country, local groups will stage rallies, protests and community meetings to call attention to the need for full federal equality for LGBT Americans on the same day the long-awaited repeal of the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy takes effect," a Sept. 19 media release from the group said.

"Spanning from Norfolk, Virginia to Huntsville, Texas to Moscow, Idaho, the national 'Day of Discontent' features over a dozen individual actions across the country, designed to serve as a reminder that the LGBT community is not equal in the eyes of the federal government and in most state laws," the release added. "Each group will gather to urge their locally-elected officials to take the fight for full equality far beyond the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' "

"It has taken 17 years of hard work to remove this discriminatory policy, and still our community faces discrimination and intolerance on a daily basis that this one important victory won't fix," Robin McGehee, the group's director, said.

"Tomorrow's collaborative effort by LGBT organizers across this nation will show lawmakers that we will not be content until we have full federal equality in all matters governed by civil law," McGhee added. "We cannot and will not accept anything less -- for ourselves, our families and our communities."

The group's planned "Day of Discontent" drew coverage from the Huffington Post on Sept. 19.

"The events will take place in conservative bastions such as Jackson, Miss., Norfolk, Va., Huntsville, Texas, and Moscow, Idaho, and coincide with repeal parties held by other advocacy groups in all 50 states," the Huffington Post reported.

"The protests and rallies are meant to be the next chapter," Heather Cronk, who acts as GetEQUAL's managing director, told the Huffington Post. The group chose cities in conservative areas as a way of underscoring how the repeal of DADT will mean little to civilians, especially those who live in such areas, the article reported. Cronk also said that one rally is planned for Laramie, Wyoming, the city outside of which Matthew Shepard was severely beaten and left to die.

The federal government's sole law extending protection to GLBT Americans is a hate crime law named after Matthew Shepard.

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