DENVER– Veterans, state lawmakers and Democratic Party officials gathered on the capitol steps here Monday to celebrate the end of the policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which for the last 18 years barred gay Americans from serving openly in the military. The Pentagon on Tuesday is officially lifting Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell across all branches of the armed services in accordance with legislation passed last December. At a time when nearly any issue can generate incendiary political rhetoric and gridlock Congress, the end of the controversial military policy is being lauded as a rare bipartisan victory for equality and common sense and a sign of progress in service of the nation.
“Today is the eve of a major day… It’s almost like Christams Eve or Passover for many of us in this community,” said state Senator Lucia Guzman. “Tomorrow brings a new era. Nowhere in America should anyone be asked to lie about who they are or about what they stand for.”
Guzman said that active gay service members would now openly be representing core U.S. values they were fighting for overseas.
“As the sun goes down… the gentle cool breeze here in Colorado will connect with a breeze all over the world and say to our men and women in uniform ‘You are now free not only to fight and die for our country but also to be our country.”
“Many people fought to make this day possible,” said Colorado Democtaic Party Chairman Rick Palacio who, as a staffer for Maryland Representative Steny Hoyer, helped draft and push the legislation that will end the policy. “Colorado’s senior Senator Mark Udall, [independent] Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and [Republican] Senator Susan Collins of Maine were pivotal in ensuring this legisaltion passed. They are proof that bipartisanship still exists.”
Palacio referenced the fact that 14,000 service men and women had been discharged under the policy.
Government accountants estimated last year that the process of identifying gay service members and discharging them under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” cost the country more than $200 million since its implementation.
In arguing for repeal, Senator Udall said repeatedly that seeking to expel men and women the country had paid to train was extremely detrimental at a time when the nation was fighting two wars.
“These are jet pilots, translators of Arabic, Farsi, Pashtun– languages so important in the War on Terror. All the skill sets needed in the military are met by gay Americans.”
Most of the countries of the European Union, as well as Israel, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Taiwan and Uruguay all embrace open gay military service and have in most cases for years.
Vietnam veteran Dennis Daughtery spoke to the small crowd outside the capitol today about the kind of closure the repeal would bring for him.
“I have two friends whose names are chiseled into a wall in Washington DC. I just want to go back and say to them Welcome home.”
State Senator Pat Steadman, who sponsored a same-sex civil unions bill in Colorado that gained bipartisan support before being killed in a House committee last year, said he saw the repeal as the end of a chapter in the larger story of gay equality.
“This is one step in a much larger movement,” he said. “It is a movement that has seen continual progress, from what is happening in different states around the country to, finally, the legislative changes coming out of our nation’s capital. This particular policy was a policy of exclusion and discrmination that way outlasted any usefulness and it was really time for it to go.
“We are now at a point where most of these policies of exclusion are history and we can start talking more about what we can do legislatively to focus on inclusion and equality. I hope that momentum continues to sweep our nation’s capital and where we are right now,” he said, referring to the state capitol building behind him.