Organizers of the first LGBTQ Presidential Forum in Iowa did not publicize the fact that their historic Sept. 20 forum lands on the same day eight years ago that the repeal of the horrific anti-LGBT Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was finally enacted. But South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg remembered. In fact, the day holds a very personal meaning for him as he writes in a post on Medium.
In fact, the day should hold meaning for all LGBTQ patriots and allies since President Donald Trump rescinded plans to lift the ban on transgender servicemembers serving openly in the US armed forces, prompting Marine Corps veteran Stephen Peters, director of communications for Modern Military Association of America, to note in an Advocate op-ed “We’re Fighting a New ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ All Over Again.”
Last year, the Los Angeles Blade featured an extended Military Special commemorating the day President Obama signed the Repeal of DADT, on Dec. 20, 2010. In it, the Blade noted how long LGBTQ people have been serving in the military and why the ban was so unjust.
Obama also remembered, posting on the White House website on Sept. 20, 2011, in part: “Today, the discriminatory law known as ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is finally and formally repealed. As of today, patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love. As of today, our armed forces will no longer lose the extraordinary skills and combat experience of so many gay and lesbian service members. And today, as Commander in Chief, I want those who were discharged under this law to know that your country deeply values your service.”
For Buttigieg, the only presidential candidate with military experience, deploying to a war zone while still in the closet was a rude and painful awakening.
On the day before my deployment to Afghanistan, I wrote a letter. It was for my family in the event that I didn’t come home, a 32-year-old man’s attempt to make sense of a short but very full life. Writing it had required as much of me as the hardest day of training. What I didn’t put in the letter was that the act of writing it forced me to reflect on the possibility that I could die without ever having known what it felt like to be in love.
That was the mandated reality of many servicemembers before me.
For seventeen years, DADT (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) forced LGBTQ soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen into the closet. The punishment for living openly was dismissal from the armed forces.
For individual servicemembers, that meant hiding who they were from the people they trusted with their lives. In some cases it meant giving a life that was less than whole.
For partners, it meant that when a promotion came up, they wouldn’t be there to celebrate a new rank being pinned on. And should the worst happen, they wouldn’t even be contacted.
We accepted this for so long that it just felt normal. Some even felt it was necessary to keep our country safe. It ultimately took the recorded responses of the more than 400,000 men and women in uniform who were interviewed for the historic report to make clear that LGBTQ service members are not burdensome to the military; they’re invaluable. And on September 20, 2011, President Obama signed the repeal.
Servicemembers and their families could finally breathe a sigh of relief. Many even sent letters of thanks like this one from Master Sergeant Bertie Wiggins. She wrote:
I’m so proud of my wife and children and for the sacrifices they made in my 11 years of service to our great country. Now, they too, can be recognized for the selfless service they have given in support of me and my calling.
Or this one by Darin from Washington:
My husband will deploy next June, but this time his pack will be a little lighter without the worry of whether or not his family will be taken care of.
Or this one from Master at Arms Michael Aycox:
Few people understand what it is like to be an outcast in…their own mind, and even fewer understand what it is like to be told “No you cannot love.” You said to the world “Yes you can, and you are not alone.”
We’ve come so far.
But the struggle is not over.
It’s not over when so many Americans can be denied work or fired for being who we are. It’s not over when transgender troops, ready to put their lives on the line for this country, have their careers threatened with ruin one tweet at a time by a commander-in-chief who, himself, pretended to be disabled when it was his turn to serve.
The politics of the past have returned, but we will not wait another seventeen years to do something about it. That’s why I’m proud to count former Pentagon senior spokesman Doug Wilson, who played a key role in the DADT repeal, and Eric Fanning, the first openly-gay Secretary of the Army, among the many LGBTQ national security professionals on my foreign policy and national security team.
Gently setting the letter to my family in a desk drawer made it clear to me: You only get to live one life. And if you return home safe from a dangerous place, you owe it to yourself to build a life that is worthy of your own good fortune. So I came out. I met and married Chasten. I became whole.
Our servicemembers deserve the chance to live a life that’s whole without losing their jobs or erasing the ones they love. As president, I will ensure we respect the humanity of those who risk everything for us. We owe it to them.