“Hopes dim for ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal this year,” read a headline in last year’s GA Voice Atlanta Pride issue, which hit the streets on Oct. 1, 2010.
Headline on page 36 of this Pride issue? “Atlanta celebrates end of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Of course, the end of the military’s discriminatory ban on openly gay service members was years in the making. Efforts to repeal the ban began as soon as it was passed in 1993 as a disappointing compromise after newly elected President Bill Clinton had pledged to let gays serve in the military.
Clinton’s election played a small but meaningful role in my own coming out story. I never doubted my parents’ love, but they weren’t exactly thrilled in 1991 when they found out I was gay.
A year later, during the run-up to the 1992 presidential election, I received a thin envelope in the mail from my father. Inside was a newspaper article about where the Democratic presidential hopefuls stood on gay issues, including gays in the military.
Attached was a Post-It note with a typically terse letter: “So you can make an informed decision. Love you, Dad.”
It was my first presidential election, and the first acknowledgement from my father that being gay was a civil rights issue as a well a personal identity.
Serving in the military was never my dream — a feminist before I was a lesbian, I was appalled by the ban on women in combat and vehemently turned down the military recruiters who called my home after I scored surprisingly highly on the Mechanical Comprehension section of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery administered by my high school. (Ask my wife; no trace of those supposed mechanical skills remains today.)
Still, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” seemed particularly bitter being served up by the president who received the first vote I was old enough to cast, and a slap at my idealistic new identity.
With those memories in the forefront, I brought my children to the Retreat Ceremony held at Piedmont Park Sept. 19 to mark the end of the last duty day under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
It was one of those “teachable moments” parents crave, and I hoped that even if they didn’t fully comprehend my explanation of the reason for the event, they would remember it when they later learned about the military gay ban in history class.
To be honest, their attention waned as the ceremony ran long. But they recognized a performance of “Blowing in the Wind,” a song I sometimes butcher at bedtime (my singing abilities being on par with my mechanical abilities), and they both said that the ban on gays in the military, like the ban on their parents getting legally married, was “not fair.”
Simple enough for elementary school kids to understand. Too bad it is so hard for this year’s crop of GOP presidential contenders, who blathered about reinstating “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” at recent debates.
The LGBT veterans Color Guard that leads this year’s Pride parade will carry the same flags, but a different message from years past — a symbol of celebration instead of protest.
And regardless of where you stand on the military in general, we should all applaud the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” because any law that singles gay people out as less-than has far broader consequences than just the particular area it covers.
As with the Defense of Marriage Act, which gay people should oppose whether we personally want to marry or value the institution of marriage, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” gave implicit permission to the general population to discriminate against us — look, even the government does it.
The end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” seems particularly fitting coming just before Atlanta Pride, and just before National Coming Out Day, which Pride is now timed to commemorate.
Atlanta Pride is a tremendous gathering of every slice of the LGBT communities, from mainstream to radical and every gradation in between, and it offers an unprecedented “teachable moment” for all of us.
Instead of mocking each other, what would happen if we made a sincere effort to embrace our diversity, learn from those whose opinions are different from ours, and also speak out respectfully about our own beliefs and identities?
For this year, let your Pride motto be “Do Ask, Do Tell.”