Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Good Riddance, DADT

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is history.

The 18-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy officially ended at midnight and with it the discharges that removed more than 13,000 men and women from the military under the old ban on openly gay troops. To mark the historic change, gay rights groups are planning celebrations across the country while Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will usher in the new era at a Pentagon news conference.

The other side will be heard, too: Elaine Donnelly, a longtime opponent of allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces, has already said that “as of Tuesday the commander in chief will own the San Francisco military he has created.” Two top Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee — the chairman, Representative Howard P. McKeon of California, and Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina — have asked the Pentagon to delay the new policy, saying commanders in the field are not ready. But the Pentagon has moved on.

No one knows how many gay members of the military will come out on Tuesday, although neither gay rights advocates nor Pentagon officials are expecting big numbers, at least not initially.

“The key point is that it no longer matters,” said Doug Wilson, a top Pentagon spokesman. “Our feeling is that the day will proceed like any other day.”

That’s all any soldier — gay, straight, or otherwise — wants; to be treated as just another soldier, dedicated to doing his or her job without the fear of retribution for being who they are.

My hope is that very soon we’ll all look back and wonder what in the world made us even care about such a thing as sexual orientation. But more importantly, I hope that we can do something to restore the honor and rightful place to the thousands of men and women who were discharged for such a trivial matter. That would go a long way to making today just another day.