I am a gay man, and I served our country in the military for almost 20 years. I graduated from the United States Naval Academy filled with pride in what this country stands for and with an eagerness to serve.
Over time, I served in the naval reserves, on active duty with the United States Air Force and in the Air Force reserves. During all of that time, I had to hide who I was from my colleagues, always aware that a slip of the tongue could result in my immediate discharge, not because of my qualifications but because of my sexual orientation. I finally resigned my commission, as I no longer could continue living a lie, which was the antithesis of my life as an officer.
I never dreamed I would one day feel safe enough to share my secret with a member of Congress, much less on the opinion pages of the newspaper.
But our country has come a long way. Seventy-five percent of Americans now support the service of openly gay and lesbian Americans in the military, according to a recent New York Times analysis. That’s a majority of Americans who believe Congress should repeal the current law, titled “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which requires discharge of any service members who identify or are identified as gay or lesbian.
Perhaps even more remarkable to me is the recent Pentagon study of 115,000 active service members. Seventy percent believe that repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would be positive or make no difference. Perhaps that’s because 69 percent of active service members believe they already have worked with a gay or lesbian col-league, and 92 percent of those people reported that their ability to work with gay or lesbian colleagues was very good, good, or neither good nor bad.
I am further inspired by the remarks of top military leaders favoring repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen all have spoken out in favor of repeal. Adm. Mullen testified before Congress recently and stated, “I would not recommend repeal of this law if I did not believe in my soul that it was the right thing to do for our military, for our nation and for our collective honor.”
The public has spoken. The military has spoken. Our leaders have spoken. It is now time for our leaders to act.
My first meetings with the offices of Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins took place in 2005. At that time, I remember a staffer basically telling me that repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” just wasn’t a possibility.
I was thrilled to see Sen. Collins offer a stand-alone bill to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” last week. I understand that bill will be voted on this week.
Sen. Collins enjoys the support of all Democrats but one in the Senate. Unfortunately, none of her Republican colleagues has joined her yet in sponsoring this historic legislation. I urge Sen. Snowe to have the courage to stand with Sen. Collins in supporting repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Dan Crewe is a retired businessman, veteran and a member of the board of directors of the Maine Civil Liberties Union.