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The final days of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

‘I don’t understand why people are against gay marriage.
Their main argument is that it’s tearing away at our social fabric.
You really think gays would do anything to harm fabric?’
– David Hodorowski, actor and comedian.

In about 48 hours, the end of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in America will be upon us.
The U.S. military will finally consent to homosexuals serving openly after the Senate voted to repeal the policy in December 2010. Such legislation required troops to hide their sexual orientation or risk being excluded from the armed forces.

There is no doubt in my mind that countless people have dedicated vast amounts of time, effort, blood, sweat, tears and mascara to this cause. The LGBT community seem to possess a great reservoir of courage and persistance; but I would like to pay homage to one particular man who some say, began this whole thing.

So, readers, meet T/Sgt. Leonard P. Matlovich.

An act of defiance

‘He had the knack for taking your heart and making it catch for a moment…
He seemed to make people want to be braver than perhaps they were.’
– Neely Tuoker, The Washington Post on Leonard Matlovich.

A decorated Vietnam war veteran and a recipient of the Purple Heart, Matlovoch was also the first to bring the U.S. government’s discrimination against homosexuals to the public’s eye when he handed his coming-out letter to his superior officer and declared that he was gay. His fight to keep his career in the U.S. Air Force became a widely known cause as he became a symbol for other gay service members and the gay community in general.

During his discharge hearing, he was asked to sign a document outlining that he must “never practice homosexuality again”, in exchange for remaining in the Air Force. But Matlovich refused. Besides serving three tours in Vietnam, Matlovich had also received numerous accolades including the Bronze Star. Despite this, the panel ruled that he was unfit for service, recommending that he be given an Honorable Discharge (he was previously given a Less than Honorable Discharge, but the Secretary of the Air Force agreed for its upgrade.)

Matlovich decided to take matters into his own hands and fight back, suing the U.S. Armed Forces. His unusual case began to gain momentum and on the 8th of September 1975, he made history. His face was plastered on the front of TIME, marking the first time a picture of an openly gay individual was featured on the cover of a U.S. news magazine.
Matlovich was an active member of the Mormon Church, even earning the office of an Eldar. However, when news broke of his case and the surrounding publicity of his struggle to stay in the Air Force despite his sexual orientation became a cause célèbre, he was subsequently excommunicated from LDS Church in Virginia.

Although the U.S. District Court Judge presiding over Matlovich’s case ruled in favour of him being reinstated into the Air Force as well as additionally handing him a promotion, (as they had failed in giving an explanation of why Matlovich did not meet their standards for acceptance), the Air Force instead offered Matlovich a financial settlement worth $160,000, which was accepted by Matlovich for fear that an appeal may not work out for his best interests.

Nevertheless. Matlovich had planted a seed. He began a discourse which has resulted in several recent victories for proponents of LGBT rights. He became a tireless advocate for LGBT soldiers, an inspiration to those who thought themselves unable to divulge their sexual identity, and even after his death, he continues to remain an admired figure and role model for many people.

His infamous tombstone reads:

Bearing no name, it is meant to represent a memorial to gay veterans everywhere.

Change we can believe in

In today’s America, many factions of supporters have drawn similarities between this landmark verdict to the military’s decision to allow racial integration in the 1950s as well as the admittance of women to serve in the military in the 1970s. Although Clinton originally sought for an end to the ban that allowed thousands of military personnel to be forced out following the disclosure of their sexual identity, he was confronted with deep and intense scrutiny by members of Congress, high-ranking military advisers, the Joint Chiefs of Staff as well as sizeable portions of the public (in May 1993, only 44 percent of Americans held the view that gays who disclosed their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the military, compared to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, which revealed that the figure had increased to 77 percent of Americans.) Therefore, Clinton argues that in order to prevent an absolute ban on gays in the military, he authorised the “don’t ask” policy as a compromise in 1993. Thus, according to the Washington Post, more than 13,000 troops have been discharged since the beginning of the policy’s enforcement.

President Obama has said in a statement: “Our military will no longer be deprived of the talents and skills of patriotic Americans just because they happen to be gay or lesbian.” In other words, Obama has indeed stuck to his 2008 campaign promise to the gay community.

What’s next? CBS News writes: “After 19 years hiding her relationship with an active-duty Army captain, Cathy Cooper is getting ready to exhale.

On Tuesday, the policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell” will expire. And Cooper will dare speak her love’s name in public.

“This is life-changing,” said Cooper, choking up. “I just want to be able to breathe — knowing I can call my partner at work and have a conversation without it having to be in code.””

A new era?

The end of DADT is here, bringing with it a sense of relief and satisfaction, as supporters for LGBT rights mark the 20th of September a day to celebrate.
But we must not forget, although the policy will be lifted, it remains unclear as to whether or not homosexuals are still being denied the crucial protections against discrimination and harassment of the Military Equal Opportunity Program, that has been given to others because of ethnicity, race, gender and religious or political affiliation.

All the same, as a Senior Editor of Autostraddle writes: “…Be grateful that there’s one less thing that the people with one of the most stressful jobs on Earth now have to worry about.”

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