After 17 years, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a policy that prohibited gay and lesbian men and women from serving openly in the United States military, was repealed Saturday in a 65-31 vote by the Senate. The United States now joins Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Uruguay in allowing openly gay service members.
While this is a promising step towards full equality for gays and lesbians in the United States, the thirty one votes against the repeal reveal prevailing homophobia and ignorance across the country. Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said, ‘We have a saying in Oklahoma, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Well, this isn’t broke, it’s working very well.’ More than 10,870 gay and lesbian military personnel were discharged between 1993 and 2007. I would wager that not one of those 10,870 men and women would say that the policy was working well. These men and women with bills to pay and families to care for, who had built careers and worked hard to provide service to their country, were fired from their jobs because of who they went to bed with at night. Sounds broken to me, Senator Inhofe.
Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who also voted against the repeal, said, ‘This has nothing to do with the gays and lesbians who have given valuable service to our military. That’s a given.’ Then what exactly does it have to do with? Would you be more than happy to have these men and women work their fingers to the bone and put themselves in danger so long as they didn’t make you uncomfortable by having a picture with their partner on their nightstand?
The implications of the repeal are huge considering that prior to the policy’s enactment in 1993, gays and lesbians were prohibited from serving in the military at all. The lives of the estimated 66,000 lesbians, gays, and bisexuals currently serving in the United States military will no doubt be positively affected as they are able to openly turn to their partners for support while overseas and at home.
Welcome to 21st century, America.
*The last two photographs are from the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell series by LA-based photographer Jeff Sheng. Visit his website to view all the entire series, which features gay and lesbian service members from across the country before Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed.