Seventeen years after Bill Clinton's “Don't Ask Don't Tell” compromise, the institutionalized closet in the military should soon be gone. With the Senate vote to repeal, lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans have won the right to serve openly without fear of losing their jobs. Next it should be all workers. Congress needs to pass a comprehensive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. And then we all need to think about coming out.
Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has cost more than 13,000 trained troops their jobs. In addition it’s cost some activists their health and well-being. Lt. Dan Choi, a tireless crusader, who chained himself to the White House fence for repeal, was involuntarily committed to a Veterans Hospital earlier this month after a breakdown.
No activist should be portrayed as superhuman, Choi wrote to friends. The failures of government and national leaders carry consequences, he said, that go far beyond the careers and reputations of corporate leaders, and elected officials. “They ruin lives. “
With ruined lives in mind, before the vote on Don't Ask Don't Tell, last Thursday, 131 demonstrators--many of them veterans--were arrested outside of the White House, protesting war. Among them were GRITtv guests Chris Hedges and Daniel Ellsberg. Hedges wrote eloquently of what drove him to act: the horrors of armed conflict and the cost of militarization to civil society and its citizens.
This Friday, Bradley Manning spent his 23rd birthday in a six-foot by twelve foot cell, accused of the crime of revealing information about this nation’s wars in the hopes of stopping them. He's been there for seven months. In solitary. Manning may have acted alone, but he’s not alone. Militant action helped change Don't Ask Don't Tell—and militant action is needed to get him out of solitary.
And then, it's time to take a tip from those LGBT service members. As they came out for their rights openly to serve in our wars, are wars' opponents as willing to come out, loud and proud -- leaving no-one to stand alone -- against our nation's waging of them?