Ten years ago, Monday, September 20, the US military’s homophobic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy came to an end, ushering in a decade of open military service for enlisted and LGBTQ officers. While the rule’s implementation over the 18 years in which it has indeed turned the careers and lives of approximately 14,000 military personnel, its repeal was a turning point in the federal struggle for LGBTQ rights.
“I think one thing I thought about a lot in my seven years of service after the repeal was immediately that a generation no longer had any concept of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell “I had to remember that that was sort of the goal,” said gay veteran Joseph C. Rocha, who was a strong advocate for the repeal of DADT.
Rocha came out of the closet at age 17 and, after being kicked out of his home by his father, enlisted in the Navy. He served as a dog handler in the Persian Gulf before being demobilized in 2007 under DADT due to his sexual orientation, after being intimidated by other servicemen who suspected him of being gay.
After the policy was repealed, Rocha enrolled in the Naval Officer Candidate School and then served as a judge advocate. After fulfilling his eight-year commitment with the United States Marine Corps, Rocha left Marine Corps Lejeune Base Camp in North Carolina to relocate to Escondido outside of San Diego to run against the member Republican Congressman Darrell Issa for his 50th Congressional District seat next year.
âIt made me feel old, but also made me proud and happy to see that an entire generation had no concept of ‘don’t ask, don’t say.’ If you reminded them, they would be. shocked, “Rocha, who at one point lived in San Francisco, told the Bay Area Reporter last week in a telephone interview.
Another former city resident, C. Dixon Osburn, moved last year at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to Washington, DC with her husband, designer JR Hodder, and spent the following months writing a book on his involvement in the fight to repeal the DADT. He self-published his “Mission Possible: The Story of Repeal” Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell “on September 7 via Amazon.
Osburn and lawyer Michelle Benecke, a former army captain, co-founded the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network in 1993, shortly after former President Bill Clinton first proposed the DADT. They have responded to countless calls from men and women in the military who have been harassed despite the DADT.
âToday, it has been 10 years since young men and women serving our nation have never faced a law of discrimination like DADT. For me, this is remarkable,â said Osburn, who hopes to embark on a book tour later this year. . “Meanwhile, the military has created a generation of new leaders; I can’t wait to see what they do.”
Officially known as the âDon’t Ask, Don’t Say, Don’t Chaseâ directive and colloquially referred to as DADT, the policy that went into effect on December 21, 1993 was an attempt by Clinton to keep his campaign promise to allow people LGBTQ to openly serve in the military. But congressional leaders and senior military officials vehemently opposed it.
A compromise was found, negotiated by then-gay MP Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts, for the directive which essentially said that until the military spoke out about their sexual orientation, they would be left alone. But once implemented, it did nothing to reduce the drumming of LGBTQ people in the armed forces.
The policy was to be viewed by many LGBTQ people as a betrayal of Clinton, and the DADT became the subject of legislative and legal struggles to have it overturned. It was a halting process with repeated obstacles erected in Congress to thwart calls for its repeal.
President Barack Obama took office in 2009 and pledged to suppress the DADT. But the former U.S. senator from Illinois has sought the cooperation of Pentagon and Congressional officials to do so. It would take some procedural maneuvering to break through a Republican obstruction in the Senate to achieve its goal.
Following a dramatic and eloquent speech, Obama signed the DADT repeal law on December 22, 2010. The following year, the country’s top defense officials submitted a one-page written certification to Congress on Friday, July 22, stating that the military was ready to implement it.
After a required 60-day waiting period stipulated by the bill approved by Congress, the repeal of the DADT became a reality on September 20, 2011. Despite the predictions of opponents, this would destroy the cohesion of the unit among troops, the presence of LGBTQ service members had few negative consequences. impact within the military.
“We were all happy to see no major issues when the repeal of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ was implemented,” Rocha said. âI remember how many lies were told by ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ supporters about all the chaos that would ensue, all the harm it would cause to the order of the troops and to discipline. “
In 2017, former President Donald Trump attempted to ban trans people from serving in the military, announcing his policy via Twitter. This led to another round of lawsuits filed on behalf of members of the trans service and those who wanted to enlist. In January, President Joe Biden signed an executive order allowing transgender troops to serve in the military again.
“I hope that the lifting of the ban on transgender soldiers remains valid this time. The military will have four years to become acculturated behind the lifting of this ban,” Osburn said. âThe Pentagon did not support Trump’s tweet that lifted Obama’s policy. I think the Pentagon and its services will support transgender troops even more. That said, we saw what the previous administration did. on all kinds of LGBT issues. I don’t, ‘I think we’ve come out of this neo-fascist era that is upon us by some members of the Trump wing of the Republican Party, so I think we have to be vigilant. “
Events hosted by the Modern Military Association of America, the nonprofit successor to SLDN who now champion the name of LGBTQ servicemen and their families, will take place in Washington, DC throughout Monday to mark 10 years without DADT. A minute of silence to honor military personnel past and present will be held online via Facebook Live from 5 a.m. to 5:15 a.m. (Pacific hourly).
At 6 a.m., a wreath will be laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. It will be followed by a memorial service at 9 a.m. at the grave of the late gay technical sergeant Leonard Matlovich. Former resident of San Francisco’s LGBTQ Castro neighborhood – a plaque is affixed to Castro’s building and 18th Street where he resided in the late 1970s and early 1980s – served in the Army of the air during the Vietnam War.
Matlovich became an overnight media sensation when a photo of him in uniform appeared on the cover of Time magazine in September 1975 under the headline “I’m a Gay” at a time when most LGBT people were afraid to go out. cupboard. He died of AIDS in 1988, a month before his 45th birthday, and is buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington.
A virtual celebration of the repeal of the DADT will take place from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. and will feature former military leaders and LGBTQ activists. Sign up online.
Rocha will be on Michelangelo Signorile’s radio show on SiriusXM Progress 127 (noon to 3 p.m.) to discuss the anniversary of the repeal of DADT. He will also participate in the virtual commemoration organized by the Congressional LGBTQ + Equality Caucus.
Despite the moment of celebration, Rocha warned that the LGBTQ community must always be vigilant in protecting the rights it has earned and must continue to push for additional protections at the federal level. The key is to see the Equality Act, a sweeping LGBTQ rights bill currently blocked in the U.S. Senate, sent to Biden’s office for his signature to become law.
“I would say I think the LGBTQ community still doesn’t have the legal protections at the federal level for us to rely on the repeal of the DADT. We see this a lot in the data that supports the Equality Act movement,” he said. Rocha said. “The current Texas abortion ban is just one example of how the law established, particularly in this case, and in our case in a sense at a lower level, where constitutional protections are us. often insufficient.
“I would say we can never take it for granted that a fight is really over,” he added. “We always have to keep an eye on progress because it will go backwards very quickly.”
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