To celebrate Pride 2012 and to honor the great civil rights and political successes we have earned recently, I would like to offer a series of columns on the lawyers, advocates, scholars, and individual leaders who have sacrificed so much, developed novel legal arguments, and won the legal victories upon which we stand today. It is impossible to include everyone; an entire life's work would fail to honor all of our forefathers. But these few representatives symbolize the contributions of the greater whole: a group of men and women, young and old, who have sacrificed so that we can live a life of freedom today. In today's column, the service members who fought "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the military's ban on open service.
Thanks to President Obama and his Democratic allies in the last Congress, gay service members can serve openly in the military. But the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) only happened because brave men and women in the armed forces were willing to stand up and bring attention to odious discrimination at the risk of their livelihood, their careers, and, perhaps, their safety.
In the immediate run up to DADT's repeal, the banner of LGBT activism in the military belonged to people like Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, an F-15E weapons systems officer at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho who came out in 2008; Maj. Margaret Witt, an Air Force nurse who was outed by a girlfriend's jilted ex; and Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, a gay Marine who also happened to be the first American seriously injured in the Iraq war. But, they and their legal and political successes stood on the shoulders of men and women like Joe Steffan, a midshipman in the Naval Academy in the early 80s; Margarethe Cammermeyer, an Army nurse; and Leonard Matlovich (above), the Vietnam veteran who was the first service member to challenge the military's discriminatory ban on open service. Mr. Steffan lost his case, Col. Cammermeyer won hers, and the late Mr. Matlovich started it all. Their cases tell the story of how the gay rights movement, in fits and starts, built a successful campaign in the courts and in the court of public opinion that eventually climaxed in 78% percent of Americans opposing DADT, a federal court case declaring DADT unconstitutional, and a smooth and mercilessly final repeal.
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