As of Sept. 20, the discriminatory law known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ceases to exist. No longer will patriotic gay and lesbian Americans need to hide who they are in order to serve the country they love.
While this is an important step in our ongoing effort to form a more perfect union, it is also, in some ways, an unremarkable step. Gays and lesbians have served in our armed services from the time of the American Revolution. But they have served in silence; worse still, some have been forced out for nothing more than their sexual orientation.
We know that, to use an old adage, you don’t need to be straight to shoot straight. While there will never be a full accounting of the patriotism demonstrated by gay and lesbian Americans in service to their nation, we know that they have served, with honor and valor. When President Obama signed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t’ Tell” Repeal Act into law, he told a story about an act of heroism during the Battle of the Bulge.
A regiment in the 80th Division of Patton’s Third Army came under fire. During the combat, a private named Lloyd Corwin fell into a ravine. He could have died there. But one friend, a soldier named Andy Lee, came back and scaled down the icy slope, risking his own life to bring Corwin to safety.
Lloyd always credited his friend with saving his life. Four decades after the war, the two friends reunited, and it was only then that Lloyd learned that Andy was gay. Lloyd hadn’t known, and more importantly, he didn’t care. Andy’s sexual orientation had no impact on his valor and sacrifice.
That’s a refrain we heard time and time again in preparing to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — that our military is ready for the open service of our gay and lesbian servicemembers. That, simply put, sexual orientation is not a factor. Now that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is gone, gay and lesbian servicemembers will continue to serve, albeit with one important difference: They can be open about who they are. This change will only serve to strengthen our military. As many of our nation’s top military officials have stated, unit cohesion, recruitment, retention and military effectiveness will not be harmed or undermined.
Indeed, because patriotic Americans who happen to be gay or lesbian will no longer have to conceal who they are, our military, and our nation, will be better off.
We would not be here today were it not for the leadership of President Obama, current and former members of Congress, ordinary Americans and those who wear or have worn the uniform of the United States Armed Services. On behalf of the president, I also want to thank the leadership at the Department of Defense. From conducting a comprehensive review of the issues associated with repeal, to offering a support plan for implementation, to training our forces to make them ready for this change, to rewriting masses of regulations to comply with the new law, the Pentagon has taken all necessary steps with full speed and proficiency.
As with any change, there will be apprehension from some. But I am certain that we will look back and wonder why it was ever a source of controversy in the first place. The president has every confidence in the professionalism and patriotism of our servicemembers. Just as they have adapted and grown stronger with other changes, we know they will do so again.
There is no doubt that our servicemembers will continue to serve with integrity and honor, and approach each task and mission with the professionalism that we expect of them. Be they soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen or coast guardsmen, they remain members of the finest military in the world. It is that military that has fought to preserve the freedoms that define America. And now, with the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” we have furthered those American principles of fairness and equality.
Valerie B. Jarrett is a senior advisor to President Barack Obama. She is also the chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls and oversees the Offices of Public Engagement, Intergovernmental Affairs and Urban Affairs.