Personal Stories Give Meaning to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Repeal

The bulk of the mainstream media really got this one right.  As "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" ends, and we as a country close the book on this discriminatory law, the story is about the people. The men and women who served in silence under this law. The men and women who served in silence before this law. The men and women who have been prevented from serving because of this law. The stories of the Americans who simply wanted to serve their country, but were prevented from doing so honestly because of discrimination. 

More than 80% of Americans opposed this discrimination – not because of where they stood on some political back-and-forth, not because of which side performed better in a talking-head debate, but because over time, they got to know these stories. The American people heard the voices of people like Victor Fehrenbach, who talked about the repeal in a great segment on Rachel Maddow last night. Through his voice, and the voices of people like Dan Choi, Sara Isaacson, Katie Miller, Anthony Bustos and Margaret Witt, going all the way back to Leonard Matlovich who came out on the cover of Time Magazine in 1975, Americans got to know the people who were prevented from serving their country and saw that it was time to get rid of that discrimination.

And now that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is gone, we’re very pleased to see a new batch of stories emerging. Stories like that of Navy Lt. Gary Ross who married his partner at 12:01 a.m. in Vermont on Tuesday – exactly sixty seconds after doing so would not cost him the career he loved and had spent a lifetime building. Ross told the Associated Press that the old discriminatory law “(required) you to lie several times a day."

"Being in the military is extremely invasive. It becomes a web of excuses you make when you try to be as honest as possible but you can't be honest."

We’re grateful for stories like that of Randy Phillips, who set up his web camera, called his father in Alabama, and tearfully came out to him from his bedroom at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The Washington Post reports Phillips’s dad told him “I still love you, and I will always love you, and I will always be proud of you.” (If you haven’t seen this video yet, be ready – it’s a tearjerker.)  

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Stories like that of Sam Oglesby, who was a Foreign Service officer embedded with the American military in Vietnam in 1968, and who was removed from his position – and didn’t find out unti 42 years later that he was fired because someone found out he was gay.  He writes in the New York Times:

My firing was based not on performance but discrimination. With an incredible sense of relief, I realized that I had done nothing wrong. Better late than never, I thought, as I raised my flute of bubbly. At long last, I felt myself a winner.

Stories like this simple anecdote from Air Force Staff Sgt. John Tegeler, who told the Post he walked into his office beaming on Tuesday morning.

“One of my co-workers asked why I had such a big smile on my face,” he said. “Then she said, ‘Oh, yes, I know why.’ ”

If the first set of voices were the reason the vast majority of Americans stood behind the repeal of this discriminatory law, we have to applaud the media for holding these new voices up so that the American people can know that they were on the right side of history on Tuesday.

But the media’s job is not done , nor is the military now fully inclusive of the LGBT community. We hope journalists will continue to tell the stories of the transgender men and women who are still unable to serve their country proudly – and we hope that through their voices, we can all decide to bring an end to that discrimination as well.