At midnight on Sept. 20, 2011, the nation put another nail in the coffin of discrimination when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” became history. There are so many people responsible for this that it would be impossible to name them all in a short column but No. 1 has to be our commander-in-chief, President Barack Obama. He made a promise to the LGBT community when he ran in 2008 that he would end DADT and he kept his promise.
After thanking the president, we must thank all the brave men and women who in the past and now are serving our nation and have been doing so at tremendous sacrifice to themselves and their loved ones. These men and women not only risk their lives to protect us but they have had to hide who they are and their relationships or give up the right to have one. These proud members of the military have always been an example of what Barry Goldwater is credited with saying, “You don’t need to be straight to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight.” They are the heroes of this battle for civil and human rights and we need to honor them by continuing the fight to see that not only can they serve openly but that they become eligible for all the benefits that their straight comrades in arms are entitled to.
We celebrate as a nation because today our country is safer as more men and women of courage, gays and lesbians, will be able to serve their nation and have the right to die for their country. Future generations will look back incredulously when they realize this wasn’t always the case.
The broader fight for civil and human rights has gone on for hundreds of years and continues to this day. One group after another has found themselves discriminated against at various times in history. Whether for religious reasons, for which most of the world’s wars have been fought, or on the basis of race, gender, country of origin or sexual orientation, people have always found a reason to discriminate and feed their need to make others feel less than equal. It would be nice to think that we are seeing that end but we know that isn’t the case and we have to keep fighting.
Last week during a televised Republican presidential debate a young gay soldier posed a question over YouTube to former Sen. Rick Santorum and the others on stage. He asked in essence what they would do if they were president with regard to some Republicans stating they want to reinstate DADT. What Santorum and all the others on that stage neglected to do even before answering the young man’s question was to thank him for his service to our nation. This is unforgivable. But unfortunately it is emblematic of most of the candidates vying for the Republican nomination today who are so insular and homophobic they can only focus on vying with each other to see who can deny LGBT Americans their rights with more zeal.
Santorum said that sex has no place in the military and he would reinstate DADT. Many would agree that sex has no place in the military, but under DADT you could be thrown out simply because of your orientation. The ignorance of his statement is quite staggering and even more frightening was that some in the audience booed this brave soldier.
As Americans we need to remember that it wasn’t all that long ago that African Americans and women were denied the right to fight for our nation. Today these injustices seem a thing of the past but there are always issues that arise that remind us of those battles. Vigilance is always necessary to protect the rights of minorities even after we think they are won.
What will be important is to see that our history books are revised to give credit to those gays and lesbians who fought our wars in the past but were forced to hide that fact in order to serve the nation. We need to teach our children and future generations, who will one day only see this as history, that while DADT ended in 2011 and gays and lesbians could begin to serve openly, they have served all throughout history. We need to set the record straight for posterity.