Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]
This morning President Obama is signing the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy that has forced gay and lesbian U.S. soldiers to hide their private orientation if they wished to stay in the military.
In force since 1993 and considered a moderate compromise when first enacted, the gay ban made honest troops to live a lie and caused horrible anguish to gay families, especially as war deployments became long and frequent.
Good riddance to a stupid and cruel policy - defended by Republicans to the end, I might add.
The struggle to serve openly in the military is not some new-fangled innovation. Gay people and friends have been working for this day for a very long time. The photo above shows a 1965 protest at the Pentagon asking for the right to serve. My, weren't we careful to try to look conventional in those days!
Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich carried on a long legal battle in the 1970s to stay in the Air Force after coming out. Though his exemplary record stirred much support, he eventually lost his case. He ended up running a restaurant in the resort town of Guerneville north of San Francisco. (We often ate there when passing through.)
Like many gay men of his generation, HIV/AIDS killed Matlovich. His tombstone in a Washington D.C. cemetery reads "When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one."
One of the collateral effects of the ban on gays in the military was to make the ROTC program in which the military trains officer candidates while they are still in civilian colleges seem deeply illegitimate to more progressive academic institutions. The students above were protesting in 1990 at the University of Wisconsin.
Though in recent years many institutions that once excluded ROTC have allowed it to return, repeal of the ban almost certainly will lead to restoration of ROTC at any institution so inclined - though the program will continue to face protests that it is feeding illegitimate, ill-defined wars.
Like many (most?) groups that supported President Obama's election, LGBT activists have often questioned his commitment to advancing our concerns without compromising them fatally. Members of the advocacy group GETEqual organized veterans to handcuff themselves to the White House fence to push for repeal last April.
There was little trust that the President would get this done if gay people and friends let up for a minute. So they didn't.
Today we thank the president, Senator Harry Reid who worked all the ins and outs of the Senate for this, Speaker Nanct Pelosi who has been right about this for a long time and above all, the activists who insisted that the ban on gays in the military undermined our full citizenship in the country of our birth and affection.
This change had to come; brave people made it so and our leaders have followed.
This is never been my highest priority issue, Though I understand why winning equal treatment for gay people in the military is a necessary part of my full citizenship, I worry more about the uses that irresponsible (and sometimes stupid) political leaders make of our military, invading other people's countries without cause or rational plan and failing to disentangle when the going would be good. But that's about the politicians.
I also worry more about all veterans - the least we could do as a country after we use them up is take care of them when they come home.
It has just been revealed that the Pentagon Health Plan is balking at providing brain damage therapy to returning troops. It costs too much, they fear.
Vets I know say just about everyone who saw combat comes back with some brain impairment these days - human beings aren't wired to endure ongoing, massive explosions even if their limbs come out intact.
But today, let's celebrate one small victory for full inclusion that brings our country more in accord with its ideals - and then we can regroup to pursue other causes!
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Christmases Past