One year ago Thursday, President Barack Obama repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a policy that banned openly gay men and lesbians from serving in the military. In repealing DADT, President Obama showed his commitment to a belief in the equality of all Americans and the fundamental principle that our nation should “welcome the service of every patriot.” On this historical one-year anniversary, it’s important to reflect on the repeal of legislation that has had an impact on both the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and the nation at large. This historic event also shows the progress our president has made towards LGBT equality. With the repeal of this discriminatory policy, lesbian and gay service members, their families, the armed forces and the United States are better off.
DADT was signed into law by President Clinton in 1993 as an attempt to compromise between barring homosexuals from service and allowing them to do so. For lesbian and gay service members, however, this meant hiding their identities and never feeling fully comfortable, all while they were risking their lives and sacrificing other personal freedoms in order to serve their country.
This sacrifice is difficult to imagine. Service in the military isn’t your typical job. The expectations that you face at work at a civilian job often end as soon as you punch out. Serving in the armed forces is entirely different. It’s not a nine-to-five job. As many in the military say, it’s a lifestyle that requires conscious membership 24 hours a day. Yet, under DADT, LGBT Americans were told to hide an important part of their life. They couldn’t fully participate in the spirit of camaraderie of their fellow service members because of their sexual orientation.
Since DADT required gay men and lesbians to refrain from revealing their sexual orientation at any time, it sometimes prevented them from utilizing the rights and family benefits that military members normally receive. Deployed LGBT service members weren’t always able to designate their partners as caregivers of their children in the family care plan. Similarly, if a gay or lesbian service member died while serving their country, their partner may not have been the first person notified.
DADT meant that fully qualified and trained members of the military, even those who were highly specialized in their areas of expertise, could be fired for revealing their sexual orientation. Under DADT, we reduced the size of our eligible military force through discrimination based on sexual orientation. Our government told men and women who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country that their sacrifice was not worthwhile because of their sexual orientation.
President Obama understood the message that DADT sent. He argued that people shouldn’t have to hide who they are in order to serve their country. He felt that all who sacrifice their personal freedoms and risk their lives in the service of the United States should be allowed to do so without being silenced or discriminated against.
President Obama ended the loneliness, shame, paranoia and sense of injustice that many service members felt. In doing so, he strengthened our military and country. The repeal of DADT embodies the principles of fairness and equality that Americans should extol. President Obama’s push for equality is not limited to this repeal. This anniversary reminds us not only of the push President Obama has made to guarantee equality to all, but also of how much work still needs to be done.
On this anniversary, it’s important to think about the progress that we have made in a short year toward bringing equality to all Americans. President Obama’s support of the rights of LGBT Americans sets him apart as a fighter for equality and for the guarantee of respect for all Americans. In one year, we have progressed a great deal in the name of equality. Let’s remember all the work that still needs to be done and the lives that have been positively impacted by the change we’ve seen in the last year.
Annika Doner is an LSA senior writing on behalf of the College Democrats.