Friday, September 16, 2011

Finally. The Freedom to Serve.

On Tues., Sept. 20, 2011, after 18 years of government mandated employment discrimination and more than 14,500 discharges, the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy will officially expire.  Brave and strong gay and lesbian servicemembers who help protect their nation and its citizens will no longer be subject to discharge on the basis of their sexual orientation and will no longer be forced to serve in silence.

The repeal of this discriminatory and disrespectful ban is a victory that has taken decades to secure; hundreds of thousands of letters/calls, protests and donations, and scores of organizations and elected officials have taken up this struggle. It has taken all of us, and each and every effort to get to this day.

Because this marks the realization of a dream held and fought for by so many, because this is a victory that has taken decades to secure, because we rarely get to realize such monumental victories in our lifetimes, and because it finally frees some of our best, brightest, proudest community members, we are honor bound to mark this day in history!

On Sept. 20, The Center and the co-sponsoring partners will host a special “Freedom to Serve” event from 6-7 pm at The Center, 3909 Centre St., 92103. We will have the opportunity to hear from servicemembers who have suffered for decades, who are now free to serve! All who want to celebrate with them and for them are welcome and invited!

Even though it’s clear this isn’t the end of our work on matters of equality or even basic justice for our Trans community members, something that has taken decades to achieve is certainly worth taking a moment to recognize, particularly since our San Diego community has played such an important role in the elimination of this discriminatory policy.

By now, many of you have heard the story about the answering machine that began The Center almost forty years ago, the one that was housed in a closet (of all places). What you may not know is that many of the first calls to that now-famous answering machine were from gay men and lesbians who were serving in the military. Many of them were young, coming of age, often living away from home for the first time and frightened about being gay while serving their country in the military.

While living as an LGB person in the military in recent years under the cloud of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been unimaginably challenging, imagine what it must have been like for those who were struggling in 1973 – when being gay was still considered a mental illness, when you could be arrested for dancing with a person of the same sex and sodomy laws criminalized our lives.

Over the years, many of those callers and their friends from the San Diego community have gone on to form, support and serve in organizations dedicated to fighting for a change in policy, and to serve and support LGBT veterans. San Diego has been fortunate to have such incredible advocates in our midst. Many of our San Diego LGBT veterans and servicemembers have put up courageous fights – some began as far back as the 1950s, and others have carried forward that fight. Still others will continue this fight for full and equal benefits for service members and for the dignity our Trans community members also deserve. On Tuesday we salute their courage, their dedication and their victory.

We live in a military town, and even if we’ve never personally served in the military, many of our lives have been touched by the destructive impact of the military’s discriminatory policies against LGBT people.

Whether it’s partners who have had to stay hidden when their partners leave or return from long deployments, loved ones who’ve written letters using false names or just friends who had to help keep the secret, no matter what the particulars, too often we have had to watch our friends and loved ones suffer.

And now, after decades, many will no longer have to.

Co-Sponsoring Organizations
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN)
Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
Equality California (EQCA)
Get Equal
San Diego LGBT Community Center
San Diego LGBT Pride

After the Freedom to Serve event at The Center, the celebrations will continue with several local establishments offering military discounts, including Gossip Grill, Baja Betty’s, Urban Mo’s, Bamboo Lounge and Bourbon Street. For more information about the Freedom to Serve event, please contact Denise Serrano at or 619.692.2077 x103.