WASHINGTON — Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) and Outserve, the association of actively serving LGBT military personnel, on Thursday applauded and celebrated the one-year anniversary of repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” praising the smooth transition the military has made in allowing gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans to serve openly in the military, and called on the White House, Pentagon, and Congress to embrace and advance the final work necessary to achieve full LGBT equality in the Armed Forces.
“The one-year anniversary of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal is a significant milestone that should not be minimized. We know from our nation’s top military leaders, as well as our commanders and service members that the historic transition to open service that culminated with repeal a year ago today has been a successful one,” said Army veteran and SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis.
“We cannot forget — even as we celebrate this day — that there is still work to be done in order to reach full LGBT equality in the military. Even now, families of gay and lesbian service members, veterans, are treated as second-class citizens, unable to receive the same recognition, support, and benefits as the families of their straight, married counterparts. We must repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and all federal laws that prevent the military from providing the same support for all service members and their families. We cannot have two classes of service members,” he said.
OutServe co-founder and co-director Josh Seefried joined Sarvis in praising his fellow service members.
“What we have seen on the ground is exactly what we expected to see. As service members, everyone always knew there were gay and lesbian Americans serving alongside them. The difference now is that we are able to be honest about who we are, and despite what opponents predicted, that has improved unit cohesion, not harmed it. And now, we don’t have to look over our shoulders in fear that we will be discharged from the military we love for simply being gay, lesbian, or bisexual,” he said.
Seefried said, however, that many members of the organization he leads are directly impacted by the lack of benefit and support parity for gay and lesbian service members and their families.
“Gay and lesbian military families sign up for the same service to our country, the same sacrifice, and the same risk. Unfortunately, right now their families do not receive the same benefits or support, and that can have a terribly detrimental effect on them. A deployed service member should never have to worry whether his or her family back home is being cared for while he or she is away or whether or not they will be recognized and supported if the service member does not make it home from the frontlines,” Seefried said.
Also among the issues remaining to be addressed is that of transgender service. Currently, medical regulations prohibit transgender service, though OutServe counts among its more than 6000 members, a number of actively serving transgender military personnel.
“It’s a positive step that gays and lesbians serving our country can no longer be discharged just for who they are or whom they love. Sadly, that is not true for transgender people, who have served – and are serving – honorably while sacrificing who they are. Today we are thinking of our trans brothers and sisters, and commit that we will fight for their equality as well,” said Sue Fulton, Executive Director of Knights Out, an organization of West Point alumni, staff and faculty united in supporting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. She is also a member of the OutServe board of directors.
Together, SLDN and OutServe have planned celebrations of the repeal anniversary across the country, kicking the week off on Tuesday, September 18, in New York City with a tribute to former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.