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OutServe Magazine | May 24, 2015

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President Lauds Smooth Transition

President Lauds Smooth Transition
David Small

On the one-year anniversary of the repeal of the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law today, President Barack Obama issued a statement as gays and lesbians serving openly celebrated.

“A year ago today, we upheld the fundamental American values of fairness and equality by finally and formally repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ Gay and lesbian Americans now no longer need to hide who they love in order to serve the country they love. It is a testament to the professionalism of our men and women in uniform that this change was implemented in an orderly manner, preserving unit cohesion, recruitment, retention and military effectiveness. As Commander in Chief, I’ve seen that our national security has been strengthened because we are no longer denied the skills and talents of those patriotic Americans who happen to be gay or lesbian. The ability of service members to be open and honest about their families and the people they love honors the integrity of the individuals who serve, strengthens the institutions they serve, and is one of the many reasons why our military remains the finest in the world.”

Advocates applauded the anniversary today, praising the smooth transition the military has made in allowing gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans to serve openly in the military, and called on the White House, Pentagon, and Congress to embrace and advance the final work necessary to achieve full LGBT equality in the Armed Forces.

OutServe co-founder, Air Force 1st Lt. Josh Seefried, praised his fellow service members.

“What we have seen on the ground is exactly what we expected to see. As service members, everyone always knew there were gay and lesbian Americans serving alongside them. The difference now is that we are able to be honest about who we are, and despite what opponents predicted, that has improved unit cohesion, not harmed it. And now, we don’t have to look over our shoulders in fear that we will be discharged from the military we love for simply being gay, lesbian, or bisexual,” he said.

Seefried said, however, that many members of the organization he leads are directly impacted by the lack of benefit and support parity for gay and lesbian service members and their families.

“Gay and lesbian military families sign up for the same service to our country, the same sacrifice, and the same risk. Unfortunately, right now their families do not receive the same benefits or support, and that can have a terribly detrimental effect on them. A deployed service member should never have to worry whether his or her family back home is being cared for while he or she is away or whether or not they will be recognized and supported if the service member does not make it home from the frontlines,” Seefried said.

The Servicemember Legal Defense Network’s executive director also commented.

“The one-year anniversary of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal is a significant milestone that should not be minimized. We know from our nation’s top military leaders, as well as our commanders and service members that the historic transition to open service that culminated with repeal a year ago today has been a successful one. Our men and women in uniform from the highest levels at the Pentagon to our service members on the ground are to be commended for marching out smartly and getting the job done,” said Army veteran Aubrey Sarvis.

“We cannot forget – even as we celebrate this day – that there is still work to be done in order to reach full LGBT equality in the military. Even now, families of gay and lesbian service members, veterans, are treated as second-class citizens, unable to receive the same recognition, support, and benefits as the families of their straight, married counterparts. We must repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and all federal laws that prevent the military from providing the same support for all service members and their families. We cannot have two classes of service members,” he said.

Also among the issues remaining to be addressed is that of transgender service. Currently, medical regulations prohibit transgender service, though OutServe counts among its more than 6000 members, a number of actively serving transgender military personnel.

“It’s a positive step that gays and lesbians serving our country can no longer be discharged just for who they are or whom they love. Sadly, that is not true for transgender people, who have served – and are serving – honorably while sacrificing who they are. Today we are thinking of our trans brothers and sisters, and commit that we will fight for their equality as well,” said Sue Fulton, Executive Director of Knights Out, an organization of West Point alumni, staff and faculty united in supporting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. She is also a member of the OutServe board of directors.

Together, SLDN and OutServe have planned celebrations of the repeal anniversary across the country. They kicked the week off on Tuesday, in New York City with a tribute to former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.