NEW YORK — More than 1,000 people gathered at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan on Tuesday to commemorate the first anniversary of the repeal of the military’s ban on openly gay and lesbian servicemembers.
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, OutServe and the Interbank Roundtable Committee honored former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen for the role he played in the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ Advocates note that his testimony before the Senate Armed Service Committee in Feb. 2010 in support of openly gay and lesbian servicemembers was a pivotal moment in the fight against the Clinton-era law.
President Obama signed the repeal bill into law later that year after it passed with bi-partisan support.
“One of the things I pass on and I know you know this is it’s actually pretty easy to stand up for what you believe in,” said Mullen, who attended the event with his wife Deborah. “It’s pretty easy to stand up and represent the values you have held close for your entire life and be fortunate enough to be in a leadership position where that value actually crosses over in a time and a place and in a way where you as a leader can really make a difference. So I feel blessed to [have been] there and blessed to [have represented] all of us in the United States military at a time that made such a difference in so many lives.”
Mullen, who retired from the U.S. Navy last September, further noted that 70,000 servicemembers remain in Afghanistan nearly 11 years after the war began after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“Keep them in our thoughts and our prayers,” he said. “They’re courageous young people who have made such a difference as you have, so this celebration tonight is one of great gratitude.”
ABC newswoman Barbara Walters, who emceed the event, described Mullen as her “hero” before she applauded gay servicemembers and those who fought to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“You have fought for something that is right — the end of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, so tonight is about history. Tonight is also honoring each and every one of you who has served our nation,” she said. “Tonight for the first time in American history, you have the chance to stand before this leader, an admiral, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the man who helped you on this journey and we all simply say, thank you sir.”
As the Washington Blade reported late last month, U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos echoed other military commanders who have said the integration of openly gay men and lesbians into the armed forces has gone smoothly since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” became official on Sept. 20, 2011.
“In how’s effected the military, it’s only been positive,” retired U.S. Army Brigadier Gen. John Adams told the Blade before Mullen spoke. “The military works, the services work, there’s been zero effect on combat cohesion as some people said there would be. In fact if nothing else what it’s meant is tens of thousands of gays and lesbians who were already serving now can serve without being afraid of somebody looking over their shoulder and finding out who they’re spending their off-duty time with and asking them to deny who they are. That’s ridiculous. That’s history. Thank goodness.”
Josh Seefried, co-director of OutServe, agreed.
“People can go to work and feel like they don’t have to look over their shoulder anymore,” he said when asked how things have changed since the Pentagon allowed gays and lesbians to serve openly. “It’s a lot easier to go to work and not have to worry bout losing their career they love and being fired.”
Will “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” once again become law?
Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan, who chairs the Republican Study Committee, said last week that he supports the reinstatement of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has previously indicated that he would not seek to reinstate the policy as president.
‘There’s just no turning back the clock,” said R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, told the Blade. An Army Reserve officer, Cooper attended the Intrepid event in uniform. “Open service has not been an issue, in fact if anything it’s been beneficial for recruitment and retention. People can be honest and open about who they are. They don’t have to hide from themselves or their command. And it’s been a good thing.”
Former Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy, who helped spearhead “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal efforts on Capitol Hill, took a more partisan approach.
“It’s absolutely going to happen if they win the White House and get control of the Senate because they [the Republicans] already have control of the House,” he told the Blade. “It’s in their platform. It’s going to happen if we let it happen, but hopefully we all continue the march to full equality in America. It was a proud moment to pass ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal and then to see seven states pass marriage equality, but there’s still over 40 states that we have to make sure every American has full equality in our country in 2012.”
Seefried echoed Murphy, Cooper and others who described the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is one step towards full equality for LGBT servicemembers and Americans.
“There’s still a lot more work to do,” he said. “A lot more people don’t have harder support right now. We have the Defense of Marriage Act and there’s a lot of things that the Pentagon can do right now that they just haven’t done. And we also have transgender service to achieve, so I think we have a lot of work to do and we have to realize that.”
Lesbian New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts, former Human Rights Campaign President Elizabeth Birch, Fox Morning Extra co-host Tom Murro and Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell of “The Fabulous Beekman Boys” were among those who attended the event.
Tammy Majors of Arizona said she was discharged from the U.S. Air Force under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when a woman she had dated told her commanding officer about their relationship. She became emotional as she waited to greet Mullen after he spoke.
“I think this is a great honor and I never thought I would see this happen, ever. I’m just really happy. I’m excited,” she told the Blade about the ability of gays and lesbians to serve openly. “I just wanted to celebrate with everyone else.”
The event also doubled as a fundraiser that raised more than $700,000. Mullen said this money will benefit wounded veterans and other related causes.