Last night, I received a phone call filled with exciting news from a close friend to GLAAD, Second Lieutenant Sandy Tsao. Sandy is a Chinese American woman and army officer based out of St. Louis, Missouri. Sandy originally reached out to me last January as a result of her brave decision to come out as gay.
At the same time, Sandy also sent a heartfelt letter to President Obama urging him to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT).
An excerpt from her original letter in January reads:
Today is Chinese New Year day. I hope it will bring good fortune to you and your newly elected office. Today is also the day I inform my chain of command of who I am. One of the seven army values is integrity. It means choosing to do the right thing no matter what the consequences may be. As a Christian, this also means living an honest life.
In closing, she wrote:
We have the best military in the world and I would like to continue to be part of it. My mother can tell you it is my dream to serve our country. I have fought and overcome many barriers to arrive at the point I am at today. This is the only battle I fear I may lose. Even if it is too late for me, I do hope, Mr. President, that you will help us to win the war against prejudice so that future generations will continue to work together and fight for our freedoms regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin or sexual orientation.
This past Tuesday, May 5, Sandy received a package from the White House. As Sandy unwrapped the thick envelope and looked inside, she tearfully fell to her knees. Protected between two pieces of cardboard, the parcel contained a handwritten note from President Obama.
The President, responding to Sandy's letter, wrote:
Sandy - Thanks for the wonderful and thoughtful letter. It is because of outstanding Americans like you that I committed to changing our current policy. Although it will take some time to complete (partly because it needs Congressional action) I intend to fulfill my commitment. -- Barack Obama.
Sandy and I have spent the past few months sharing her story in the media so others know about the unfortunate reality facing gay, lesbian and bisexual citizens in the armed forces. We began sharing her story with Asian Pacific Islander media, mainly because of their growing interest for more LGBT stories. We had also shared her story with mainstream media outlets, but received no response.
I initially pitched her story to Audrey, a magazine reaching more than 10,000 Asian American women across the country.
Audrey's Editor-in-Chief, Anne Kim, readily agreed to pick up Sandy's personal account about coming out in the military. Her editorial can be found in the April/May issue that is currently on newsstands (or by clicking on the image to the left).
I also reached out to my contact at The World Journal, a Chinese language daily newspaper reaching nearly 350,000 readers. The reporter immediately interviewed Sandy and subsequently wrote a feature piece on DADT and its impact on openly gay, lesbian and bisexual service members.
Sandy's last day in the army is May 19. She is being forced to leave the military, another service member discharged under the DADT policy.
Right now, she is preparing to rejoin everyday life as a civilian. But even though Sandy is sad to leave her dream job, she hopes her story will contribute to repealing the military ban. Sandy is even more encouraged by President Obama's personal promise to allow others like her to serve openly in the military with pride and dignity.
The debate over Don't Ask, Don't Tell is still alive in the media landscape. Bloggers like Joe. My. God recently found the White House Web site had revised its language on President Obama's commitment to lift the ban for openly gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans from serving in the military.
While the story of revised White House Web site language may fall out of the news cycle, we can be sure that DADT will continue to capture the media spotlight. The advocacy, reports and media coverage surrounding the ban have only expanded the public debate, scrutinizing the reasons and rationale for delaying the day when openly lesbian, gay and bisexual people can serve in the military.
The President's personal reply extends beyond Sandy and her story. It's a powerful message to the American people that one day everyone will be able to serve their country free from the fear of being discharged simply because of their sexual orientation. However, as the President's note alludes to, the timeline to fulfill that commitment remains unknown.
My work with Sandy is one example from many that highlights the very reason why we need GLAAD's Asian Pacific Islander Media Program. Whether we are providing a media training for LGBT community leaders from Mainland China to pitching a Seoul-based newspaper a hate crimes story, my work aims to harness the power of media with cultural competency. GLAAD's commitment to the Asian Pacific Islander community and other communities of color is united by a simple belief that we must bring all of our experiences to the table when engaging in meaningful debate for fairness and equality.
Below, you can watch a clip from The Rachel Maddow Show which followed the story of the White House Website revising its DADT language:
And here is a collection of media coverage related to Don't Ask, Don't Tell:
Related Blog Coverage
Joe. My. God:
- White house fixes DADT Language on website, “repeal” replaces “change”
- White house restores LGBT rights promises on website (but changes DADT wording from “repeal” to “change”
- White house shrinks LGBT rights commitments list on official site
The Bilerico Project:
- Disrespecting the troops, one thousand officers at a time
- Obama hits pause on the repeal DADT button
- Robert Gates wants to "push" DADT repeal "down the road a little bit"