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Lesbian Army Captain Remembers Those Who Fought Against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

by Tanya Domi on December 18, 2010

in Civil Rights,Discrimination,Legislation,Politics

The moment of justice came quickly–so quickly–that it felt like it had crept up and caught me by surprise.

My feelings belie the long struggle we have fought for equality and dignity for lesbians and gay men in the military, most spent from the shadows of American life.

The path has been cleared in the Senate for a certain path to remove affirmative discrimination against lesbians and gay men in the military.

Since late last night I have been posting thank yous on Facebook, friends and colleagues who have worked days, weeks, months and years in our effort to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  This is a moment we have worked toward for decades–the toil, the frustration, the agony, the sadness and great sacrifice, suffering in silence from the closet, removed from traditional sources of emotional support, as we served in defense of our country.

My tears began welling up this morning as I received and exchanged so many heart felt expressions of support and gratitude from around the country during the Senate discussion led by Senator Joe Lieberman, who reminds me of the time honored assertion that inside the beltway there are no permanent enemies.  His leadership also symbolizes the internalized social justice values of the Jewish community, who have always been there for us–stood with us– since the beginning of this fight so many decades ago.

In this vein, the stalwart work of Sammie Moshenberg, the Washington director of the National Council of Jewish Women;  Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism and Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff, retired U.S. Navy chaplain, a personal friend, have all contributed in this winning vote for justice today.

We stand on the shoulders of many who have not lived to see this day:  Leonard Matlovich, Karl Cropsey, Copy Berg, Thomas Paniccia, Randy Shilts, Alan Stephens, Tom Stoddard, Gerry Studds, Perry Watkins and so many others. But I am so happy that Frank Kameny was alive to see this repeal come to pass, as Frank began his courageous advocacy on the military’s gay ban in the 1950s–during the age of the Philistines.

I want to acknowledge the ground breaking work of a number of lesbian leaders who played a major role in our history as activists– in advocacy, policy and law, on behalf of lesbians and gays in the military:  Urvashi Vaid, Peri Jude Radecic of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; Cathy Woolard, Mandy Carter, Nancy Buermeyer of the then-Human Rights Campaign Fund; Professor Nan Hunter, formerly of the ACLU; Bridget Wilson, lawyer advocate for LGBT veterans and a former Army soldier; Kathy Gilberd, counselor of the National Lawyers Guild and Kate Dyer, former legislative assistant to the late Congressman Gerry Studds (D-MA).

But ultimately this vote and ultimate victory, belongs to the veterans and active duty service members who would not relent to the inaccurate political belief that we should not allow gays to openly serve during the course of two ongoing wars. Joined with a new generation of veterans, tested by war, armed with social media tools and the relentless advocacy of 24-7 LGBT bloggers–how this battle was fought and the votes will be won, marks a seismic departure from the strictly “inside the beltway” strategies of establishment Washington.

The veterans community led by Aubrey Sarvis of Service Members Legal Defense Network; Alex Nicholson and Jarrod Chlapowski of Service Members United; Anu Bhagwaiti and Jen Hogg of the Service Women’s Action Network; along with Robin McGehee of GetEQUAL, a national civil disobedience organization, joined by former Army 1Lt. Dan Choi,who  became the national face of the policy’s injustice– changed the dynamics of how the LGBT community would forge a long sought victory.

Adding quivers to our arsenal, has been the emergence of LBGT bloggers–who have kept law makers accountable, as well as Gay, Inc.  Founder and editor David Badash of this blog, has generously given me a platform, but moreover, he has been relentless in his coverage and analysis of the DADT fight; John Aravosis, Joe Jervis, Pam Spaulding, Joe Sudbay, Andy Towle and Scott Wooledge–their presence in 2010 have been a game changer in movement politics.

While the votes must be counted one more time, there is no doubt our community has arrived in a new American century that continues the American tradition to yield to the better forces of our angels for justice.

Captain Domi served for fifteen years in the U.S. Army as an enlisted soldier and commissioned officer. She now is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, who teaches about human rights in Eurasia and is a Harriman Institute affiliated faculty member. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi worked internationally for more than a decade on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights, gender issues, sex trafficking, and media freedom.

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