Gays in military relieved by end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 20, 2011 5:09 PM
Gays in military relieved by end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - For Marine Reserve Captain Sarah Pezzat, the end on Tuesday of the policy banning gays from serving openly in the U.S. military means she and her partner can now get married.

After years of inventing boyfriends or telling colleagues she lived alone, the Pentagon logistics officer and Naval Academy graduate said she will walk down the aisle in uniform next month and cut her wedding cake with a sword.

The repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is "a happy moment," Pezzat, 31, told Reuters.

"Try and spend one day at work and not talk about what you did at home or the discussion you had with your significant other," she said. "It's very hard."

Gay active-duty military members in the U.S. and overseas are celebrating the repeal of the policy, which allowed gay men and women to serve only if they kept their sexual orientation a secret.

President Barack Obama signed a repeal of the policy into law in December. More than 13,000 homosexuals have been expelled from the armed services for revealing their sexual orientation since the policy took effect in 1993 under then-President Bill Clinton.

The end of the policy "is a big deal if you're to the point that you lose your job over it," said Jonathan Hopkins, a 32-year-old West Point graduate and veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hopkins said he was honorably discharged from the Army in August 2010 after a months-long investigation into his sexuality.

"Ultimately I admitted that I was gay," he said. "It was the worst part of my life, as it is with all the people who have sacrificed a major part of their lives to have a relationship and to serve their country. Their relationship ends up being with the military and not with another person."

Last week, U.S. Representatives Joe Wilson and Buck McKeon of South Carolina and California, respectively, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asking the Pentagon to delay the official repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

The two Republican congressmen said the House Armed Services Committee had not been provided with details on the new regulations that reverse the policy.

But Pentagon officials said they were prepared for the repeal and have spent months educating military personnel on how to manage the change.

Almost 3,500 active duty service members at the Air Force base in Charleston, South Carolina have received training since March, said Brad Stanley, attorney for the Judge Advocate General's office there.

"The training consisted of treating people with dignity and respect," he said. "I think (today is) a non-issue.

"People here treat people the way they want to be treated and live the core values: integrity first, excellence in all we do and service before self."

Air Force Captain Eddy Sweeney, 26, and 100 other gay service members came out in Tuesday's issue of OutServe Magazine, a publication run by the nonprofit association of actively serving gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender military personnel.

The magazine, launched last spring to connect gay service members and to educate the military about their lives and jobs, is distributed online and at a handful of U.S. military bases.

Profiles of the gay service members ran under the headline "101 Faces of Courage."

"I've been receiving letters and messages all day on my phone from my colleagues who are just really happy that I can live my life with integrity and not have to worry about someone outing me," said Sweeney, who is stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

He and other gay service members who spoke with Reuters said they were not expecting any pushback as a result of the repeal.

"This is years in the making," Pezzat said. "I feel like I'm welcomed completely into the military family now as opposed to only halfway."

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Greg McCune)