Today is Veterans Day, a day which is set aside to honor men and women who served our country in the Armed Forces.
I am a veteran, and I did not celebrate the day. I am not alone.
Recent studies suggest that just under 20% of gays and just under 10% of lesbians are veterans. Many gays and lesbian veterans served illegally at a time when gays and lesbians were considered unfit for military service and banned from the military. Even today, under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", gay and lesbian military personnel are routinely removed from service.
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" stands alone among the laws of the United States because it is the only law that requires an employer, government or private, to fire a gay or lesbian. Roughly 12,000 gay and lesbian service personnel have been separated from service since "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" became law in 1993.
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" costs us dearly.
The United States has spent over $200 million dollars since 1993, to replace personnel separated under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", according to a 2005 GAO report, and the GAO noted that $200 million is not a complete cost estimate, because the cost of investigations, specialty training and security clearances are not included. A 2006 Blue Ribbon Commission Report found that the true total cost of implementing "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" between 1994 and 2003 was at least $364 million.
Worse yet, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" hinders our national defense. At a time when the military is fighting two wars, and lowering its standards to permit convicted felons to serve, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" separates experienced service personnel, and discourages many others of good character and with needed skills from volunteering for military service.
It is all unnecessary.
Polls consistently show that about 80% of the American public believes that gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military, and a recent Stars and Stripes poll showed that 75% of active duty enlisted personnel responded "No problem ..." when asked if they would serve alongside openly gay and lesbian comrades. Many senior commanders, upon retirement, have spoken out against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has signaled the military's readiness to integrate gay and lesbian servicemen into the Armed Forces on an equal footing.
So what is holding up repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"? Political cowardice.
It takes a special kind of courage to put your life on the line for a country that doesn't want, acknowledge or honor your service. It takes no courage at all to cower in the face of the Religious Right.
Our country does not deserve the sacrifice of gays and lesbians who served and serve now, any more than it deserved the sacrifice of African-Americans who served during segregation times. You know it and I know it.
And that's why I don't celebrate Veteran's Day.