Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Nearly 500 people packed into the LGBT Center in San Diego to celebrate the end of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.’ The mood was jubilant, but the focus was on how much work is still to be done to gain full equality for gays and lesbians.
Benjamin Jutt has served in the Navy for nearly 15 years. He sat in the front row at the event to celebrate the end of Don't Ask Don't Tell, proudly wearing his uniform.
“It’s a great day for everybody,” he said. “Not only for gays, lesbians and trans genders, but it’s a great day for our military and for our country: understanding segregation is done, we’re done with this, you know. The next big step is understanding we should be able to have the right to be able to marry.”
That was a constant refrain. Cpt. April Heinz works with the Service Members' Legal Defense Network. She said, behind the scenes, work is already underway with the Pentagon to figure out what exactly the new law means for service members and their families.
“There’s still much to be done,” Heinz said, “especially in the area of benefits for same sex partners or spouses, like medical benefits and housing - and many of those are precluded by the Defense of Marriage Act today.”
But much has already changed, almost overnight, as Todd Gloria, an openly-gay San Diego city councilman, pointed out.
“That that young man can sit there in his uniform -- that would never have happened yesterday,“ Gloria said. “You’re going to see gay and lesbian couples at ship homecomings and deployments saying goodbye to one another. We’ve never seen that, because this law was in place. “
The event was a chance to honor those who have born the burden of the 'Don’t Ask Don’t Tell' policy.
Dolores Jacobs, executive director of San Diego’s LGBT Center, acknowledged the pain that gays and lesbians can now put behind them.
“Tonight,” she said, “we’re here to honor and celebrate those who have suffered in silence. We’re here for those who have served and those who are serving and our youth who hope to serve. Tonight’s about the end of a horrific discriminatory policy that’s ended the bright and promising careers of more than 14,000 gay and lesbian service members, and forced ten times that many to be silent about who they are.”
Some of those who spoke at the meeting were discharged from the military in spite of the best efforts of their superiors, who tried to argue the quality of their service should allow them to continue. Some had served for decades without ever being able to reveal their true sexual identities.
Col. Stewart Bornhoft retired after a highly decorated 25 years in the military and now lives with his partner. He spoke of the first time he recited the Pledge of Allegiance after President Obama signed the legislation to end ‘Dont Ask Don’t Tell’ last December.
“For the first time in my life,” Bernhoft said, with a catch in his voice, “the words I’d recited since childhood - those last six words, “with liberty and justice for all,” finally felt like they applied to me, and I was part of that ‘all.’“
Bornhoft then led the gathering in the pledge of allegiance. The meeting broke up a burst of cheers and applause. But for many at the event, the celebration marked only one victory in a hard fought battle still to be won.