The Pentagon and President Obama finally put the final nail in the coffin to what has been a shameful period in American history — a time when brave men and women who were willing to give their lives to protect our nation were told because of who they loved they couldn’t serve.
There are many thanks to go around for this victory. First, credit must go to President Obama for keeping a campaign promise he made to the LGBT community. We need to thank the overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress led by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and then Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). We also need to thank the Republicans who stood with them. This wouldn’t have happened without Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) who stood up for what is right when things looked most bleak and moved their colleagues to do the right thing. Thanks go to Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) who is no longer in the House who stood up for gays and lesbians in the military when he knew it wouldn’t be easy. Thanks go to former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for their courage in speaking out. There are also many who worked behind the scenes including John Berry, director of OPM, who worked tirelessly to make this day a reality.
All of our advocacy groups in the LGBT community including HRC and the Task Force worked hard, but special recognition must go to Servicemembers United and its staff including Alex Nicolson and Jarrod Chlapowski and SLDN and its staff led by Aubrey Sarvis who never gave up. Also to GetEqual and Lt. Dan Choi, who took many barbs from members of our own community, but who helped to put this issue on the front page of every newspaper in the nation
Today we celebrate this victory. Tomorrow we look ahead and plan our continued fight for full civil and human rights for the LGBT community. We recognize that the country has changed and how a new awareness of the LGBT community is changing attitudes and making it possible for us to gain these victories. We need to enlist the young people of the nation who are changing America and growing up without all the prejudices of previous generations.
With each victory there is the danger of feeling too complacent and the suggestion that we should adopt an attitude of, ‘if we wait long enough everything will change.’ Some have said that we need to stop whining because not everything is done and stop critiquing our friends and accept that they aren’t necessarily ready to move ahead on attaining full civil and human rights for the LGBT community at this time.
I take a different position. We must thank everyone who has worked so hard for the victories we have achieved and work hard to support those who have moved us forward.
Log Cabin Republicans will work to keep in office those on their side of the aisle who gave support, and there are more each day. Stonewall Democrats will work to support those on their side of the aisle who have cast a vote for our future. Many including me will work to ensure that Barack Obama is reelected president because he has done more for the LGBT community than any president before him.
But this support and effort should not tie our hands and keep us from saying what we believe in our quest for full civil and human rights. Make no mistake that battle hasn’t been won. We need to differentiate between support and voting for someone and speaking out and continuing to push for our rights. Our friends should not be immune to hearing from us when they tell us they aren’t ready to fully endorse giving members of the LGBT community every right that every citizen of this great nation is entitled to.
I remember a stirring speech by President Obama at an HRC dinner when he said (and this may be paraphrasing), “I will end DADT but I expect you to keep the pressure on me as we move forward.” He understood then, and understands now, the political process is a give and take and I respect him all the more for that.
So while we stop for a moment to revel in this victory and thank those who made it possible, we must then renew our demands to pass ENDA and repeal DOMA now. We will need to be vigilant even after we achieve those goals and the rights those actions will give us. We need take heed and learn lessons from the civil rights and women’s movements. Passing legislation is one thing, ensuring that the civil and human rights of the LGBT community are protected will require a continued fight.