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Navy Kiss
Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta of Placerville, California, and her partner,
Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell of Los Angeles made history as the
first same-sex, "first kiss" in Virginia Beach, VA this week. (collage via hypervocal.com)

Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of President Obama signing the legislation that made the repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell" policy possible.

Signing ceremony
(Chuck Kennedy/White House Flickr)
Nathaniel Frank, author of Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America marked the occasion to ask "Will Defenders of DADT Stand By Their Dire Predictions?"

John McCain
McCain, still crazy after all of these years.
Frank refreshes our memories of some of the worst offenders, such as Sen. John McCain who warned:
“I hope that when we pass this legislation that we will understand that we are doing great damage, and we could possibly and probably—as the commandant of the Marine Corps said and I've been told by literally thousands of members of the military—harm the battle effectiveness, which is so vital to the support, to the survival of our young men and women in the military.”—Sen. John McCain, 2010
Frank assembled a report, Accountability and DADT (pdf), that identifies some of key predictions DADT repeal opponents made that are fast turning out to have been egregiously off-base. A refresher from Frank's report of what was said:
The categories used here to organize the predictions about the impact of repeal are as follows. Lifting the ban will:
  1. Increase HIV/AIDS and Other Health Problems in the Military
  2. Increase Sexual Assaults in the Military
  3. Undermine Morale, Readiness and Unit cohesion
  4. Harm Recruiting and Retention, Requiring a Return of the Draft
  5. Increase Casualties
  6. Hurt National Security and Threaten the American Way of Life
Clearly much of the data, like HIV infection rates, or casualties, or retention rates will not be back for some time, if one is inclined to even entertain such nonsense as a serious objection, not mere demagoguery.

But the adverse "affect on morale argument" is fast becoming self-evidently silly. The iconic image of Petty Officers Gaeta and Snell's kiss was the most popular image on the web the day of its release. If one views the video below, one can hear the cheers and clapping from the gathered crowd, as the women quietly make history.

Asked if she feels like a trailblazer, you can see Gaeta appears to struggle with the burden of representation. Her eyes narrow, she says:

"Not... well, kind of, but that's not my intention."

And clearly, she is and she isn't doing anything new. Her trailblazing is for what? Kissing her fiancée? The innocuous act of a servicemember embracing a loved one after time away has long been romanticized, celebrated, even fetishized. In a way, so much is new, so much is exactly the same. America and the troops have been challenged to embrace and celebrate Gaeta and Snell's love in the same manner, and they're meeting the challenge, much to homphobe's horror. Activist Dan Savage remarked:
"Wow—just wow. I love me some smart, articulate, photogenic lesbian sailors!"
And really, who doesn't? The closet door collapsing is a disaster for the John McCains of the world. Outreach, organizing and camaraderie-building events, like OutServe's upcoming Ski Weekend—open to all servicemembers—would have been impossible a year ago, and strengthen the resolve and morale of those in-community and out.

Granted, the applause in the video is anecdotal, a single moment in time, but certainly a far cry from the horror that was predicted.

And three months in, opponents can find no anecdotes to illustrate the horror they predicted. This was the experience of our allies in England, Australia, Israel and viturally everywhere else. Opponents argued it would be different for the USA. Apparently in their worldview our "American exceptionalism" extends to our inability to overcome bigotry and play nice together in the great melting pot.

Some of the most out-front warriors for DADT repeal gathered for a community discussion at the New York Public Library earlier this month. Panelists included OutServe's Executive Director Joshua Seefried and Jonathan Mills, executive editor of OutServe Magazine, both still active-duty. DADT dischargees West Point Cadet Katie Miller of OutServe and SLDN's Communications and Development assistant Danny Hernandez, and Sue Fulton, co-founder of Knights Out, and the first out LGBT person appointed last year to West Point Academy's Visitor's Board.

Even as they were among the most confident and optimistic that the military could well "handle" the transition, there was even a little surprise at how pleasantly things have played out and the near complete absence of any problems.

Speaking with Sue Fulton of West Point, she theorizes there may indeed have been a powder keg waiting to burst after repeal, but not the hateful one opponents predict, but rather an explosion of support.

Which makes sense. Under DADT, just the suspicion of being LGB was sufficient to make one an investigation target. Even straight allies risked marginalization and harassment if seen as "too supportive." An abrupt paradigm change occurred when pen was laid to paper a year ago. Rank and file were no longer burdened with having to speak out against an Pentagon official policy. Instead, voicing support for the policy's demise now amounts to voicing support for the choices made by the Commander in Chief, the Joint Chiefs, the Pentagon and our Congress.

Opponents now find themselves the outlaws, the ones questioning the leadership choices of the military. This is no small transgression in a top-down leadership environment like the military.

OutServe
Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt's parents hold a picture
of their fallen son, on the Nov. 11 cover
Asked how the deal to place OutServe magazine on base camp commissaries came about, Mills and Seefried acknowledged it was with the full support of the Pentagon the decision was made, and it would not have been possible without the help from highly placed allies.

Speakers at the Library event comfirm that the warm reception the "First Kiss" received was not an isolated event. OutServe, an organization of over 4,000 gay, lesbian and allied active-duty servicemembers has been flooded with positive and heart-warming stories. Seefried relayed the story of one soldier who awoke on Sept. 20, official certification day, prepared to go into the office as those it was any other day. Upon arriving he sat at this desk, and his commanding offcier (good-naturedly) ribbed him, "Soldier, do you have anything you'd like say?" He confirmed what had been an open-secret, "Guys, I'm gay" to the supportive applause of his unit.

The stories might demonstrate an eagerness for allies to move into a new and modern era and reassure LGB servicemembers, "We've still got your back."

Former Marine Danny Hernandez was the first of his family to enter the military. He was discharged under DADT. His younger brother followed him into the Marines and still serves. Hernandez told a story of his (heterosexual) brother going through the DADT repeal training. His brother stood up at the top of the training and said how proud he was of his brother, who'd been discharged under the policy and he was glad it was over. The younger Hernandez effectively set the tone for the training going well, and respectfully.

Tony Perkins
Mainstream media, always looking to the unbalanced Tony Perkins
of Family Research Council, to provide "balance."
It's gratifying, a year hence to look back at fools like Tony Perkins, Family Research Council and laugh and point. Perkins said of DADT repeal in 2010:
“When you're in training situations, where you have an individual that has the power, really, of life and death, in some circumstances, over individuals, there can be a lot of coercion. And this can be a very dangerous situation and very intimidating situation. It's just not healthy for the well-being of the military.”
But there is a more important point to be made than just the satisfaction of saying, "I told you so." Nathaniel Frank elaborates on the historical pattern DADT repeal repeated:
This is why assessing the ultimate impact of ending "Don't Ask, Don' Tell" matters. And it matters enormously. Throughout our history, opponents of equal treatment have insisted that it would wreak havoc on society, indeed that it would cause such grave disruptions that equality was an unacceptable threat to civilization. This "disruption" theory was wielded against African Americans, immigrants, women, gays and lesbians, and transgender people, to name a few. It is perhaps the sharpest tool in the arsenal of people who refuse to rise above passions and prejudice, but who know that they can't win their argument using religious and moral dogma alone. So they deploy arguments that sound secular and pragmatic—equality will somehow harm kids, undermine the family, destroy civilization—to mask what really amounts to feelings of discomfort, resentment or simple opposition to sharing first-class citizenship.

[... T]hat's what they're trying. We hear that letting gay couples marry will disrupt the social fabric of American life, undermine marriage, kill a "culture of life," dry up the Western population, and threaten our civilization. If this is what was said about gay people serving openly (which it was), and if none of it happened, then the lesson is monumental: a culture of anxiety has become a politics of paranoia, which has pulled the wool over our collective eyes in service to maintaining an unjust status quo. Will we let it happen again and again and again? Will anyone be held accountable for steering us so terribly wrong?


Will they? How could we hold them accountable?

We could add to our Christmas wish list that no one would ever take these concern trolls seriously again. An excellent goal. But probably only Santa can deliver that, as William Kristol blathers on, despite an abysmal record of accurate punditry.

We could add to our New Year's Resolutions a call to the mainstream media to recognize these people do not offer their punditry in good faith, but rather traffic only in lies, hysteria and unhinged hyperbole. We could shame the media to cease breathlessly repeating their hateful talking points as though they were a valid worldview and essential counter-point.

But for just today, this day many celebrate by surrounding themselves in the love of familiy, perhaps it's best to focus on and appreciating what has been accomplished.

The repeal of DADT shows no signs of bringing about the collapse of the American military or worse, the collapse of society as a whole.

What it has wrought is a lot of peace and joy to gay families, at the expense of virtually nothing.

As part of the public education efforts lead by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Chief Petty Officer Lee Quillian, USN (Ret.) explained the elaborate machinations she and her partner had to go through to keep their relationship well-hidden:

"I could never write 'I love you.' "

  • Set up an alternative e-mail account that wouldn’t show the gender of my name
  • Establish a very generic, genderless form of communications over e-mail
  • Never write “I love you” – or nothing that could indicate anything at all about the nature of our relationship
  • No access to the Ship’s Ombudsman – a point person for military families for all things very, very important relating to the ship and her crew
  • Create a plan for dropping her off at ship – making sure our goodbye or welcome is in secret
  • Never spending the remaining few hours on the ship like with the rest of families before a deployment
  • Worrying about how close to the pier I could be without raising suspicion
  • Before leaving home, be sure to say final goodbyes – no hugs and certainly no kisses allowed on or near the base
  • Not being able to participate in any family video postcards to the ship
  • Still trying to figure out how to deal with those pesky customs forms required when mailing anything to a “Fleet Post Office” – they require a name, so maybe use her parent’s name or the dog’s name
  • Don’t put anything too personal in care packages – those might arrive via barge, waterlogged and falling apart – therefore, they might be opened
  • As a result of the rough handling from a helicopter mail drop, any other boxes I send could be opened if damaged
  • Don’t get sick, seriously sick, and don’t get hurt while spouse is gone
  • Hope she doesn’t get hurt as no one would tell me – I can’t be listed as her next of kin in her service record without raising eyebrows
  • Remember to have her pack her personal cell phone and the charger for use six to nine months later – can’t use any of the ship’s communications, so the cell is the only way to coordinate a pickup upon return home
  • Knowing that when the other families are waiting at the pier, I wouldn’t be able to stand among them anxiously awaiting my sailor’s return.
Gone. All that anxiety, gone for currently serving LGB soldiers.

The chaining effect of paranoia and fear is now gone for the estimated 66,000 LGB troops. And if the homophobes don't like gay and lesbian troops not cowering in the closet, hiding the reality of their lives from their colleagues due to fear of dismissal, they unfortunately have no choice but to just suck it up and cope.

Stephen Hill
Please don't boo: Newlyweds Army Cpt. Stephen Hill and Joshua Snyder. (SLDN)
Relieved of the fear of leaving a paper trail, Stephen Hill, the soldier infamously booed at the Fox News GOP Presidential debate, finally got to marry his "best friend." He said of pending repeal passing a year ago:
For a soldier worried about how I would be able to live in Iraq for a year and hide who I was 24/7, it was the best Christmas present I could have received.

It would be another nine months before the repeal took effect, but knowing that it was on the way, I came home for a two-week R&R in May of 2011 and married my best friend and partner, Joshua. We traveled from our home in Columbus, Ohio to Washington, DC in order to be married at the grave of Leonard Matlovich, who had been the first to publicly fight his discharge from the armed forces for being gay. He was pioneer for gay rights, and for us, it was an appropriate way to honor his legacy and celebrate our lifelong commitment to one another.

The Morgan Family
The Morgan Family (SLDN)
Freed of the anxiety of creating public records of "having the gay," Charlie Gordon also got to finally marry her partner of 14 years, Karen. Better, the daughter they'd shared for five years would finally be able to be legally adopted by Karen, one of two mothers she'd known since birth. This represents both a symbolicly important moment, as well as a legally essentially protection for their child. Charlie, currently serving in the National Guard, says, "Because it's public record, so moving from Kentucky to New Hampshire, basically I was the parent. But now, since the repeal, we have filed paperwork, as we speak, for the second parent adoption."

Today, on Christmas like every day, across the globe no longer do LGB servicemembers need to be cagey, and secretive about who they call and share good wishes for the year. They won't need to be evasive or make up stories if asked how they spent their holidays. The military and our government still have substantial work to do toward delivering full-equitable treatment to LGB (and eventually T) families. Repealing the Defense of Marriage Act is an essential to treating military families equally.

But no longer do gay and lesbian troops need to behave like criminals, speaking in code, arranging their reunions in clandestine locations, far from cameras and their colleague's eyes. One iconic photo like this one, snapped by a Navy photographer and posted to the Navy's offical website, encapsulates it all; peace, love and joy. It's a triumph for all people who think love and family is something to celebrate—not hide.

First Kiss
Love, peace and joy for Petty Officers Gaeta and Snell. (U.S. Navy/Joshua Mann)
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