As we approach 15 years of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," I'm thinking back on not only the community's long and convoluted journey, but my own. Back in the heady days when Bill Clinton was first elected, it was the gays in the military issue that brought us back to earth. At that point, early 1993, I had already dated (and broken up with) a member of the Air Force Honor Guard. I watched people I knew coming out in anticipation of the dropping of the ban on gay servicemembers, and being bitterly disappointed. And I watched a community fight hard, yet still lose. Despite the fact that I was about as far from a prospective soldier as you could get at the time, the loss still felt devastatingly personal.
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" managed to forestall much of the progress we expected after the work we had put into Clinton's election. I have a vivid memory of an ACT-UP meeting at which one of our more active and confrontational members laid his concerns over AIDS protests before the 1992 elections: "I'm not doing anything that will jeopardize the election of Bill Clinton." That kind of buy-in expected some kind of results -- results that never really came.
Instead, we got DADT and the Defense of Marriage Act. Sixteen years later, it's rather depressing in a way to find ourselves prepping to fight the same battles once more. We're still fighting for the right to serve. We're still fighting for the legality of our relationships. Hate crimes, employment non-discrimination -- what we fought for then, we fight for now. Even some battles we thought won have regressed as the far right has used anti-marriage state constitutional amendments in exactly the ways we said they would -- to attack the very foundations of our status as gay and lesbian citizens by denying adoption rights, domestic partner rights, parental rights.
But there are differences. Up to 80 percent of Americans believe gays and lesbians should be able to serve openly in the armed forces. State constitutional drives to ban equal marriage rights have grown more and more difficult to pass, even if that comfort is rather cold. Gay issues have become wedge issues for Republicans, not Democrats, as they try to determine the future direction of their party.
Remember: We did this. We're the ones who came out to our families, friends and co-workers. We're the ones who got married, whether legally or symbolically, and celebrated our lives as part of the broader community. We're the ones who showed our support for our brothers and sisters (and partners) in uniform. We're the ones who agitated and questioned and pushed and donated and educated -- who helped move the country to a different place.
Not the best place, but a better one. One where we now have a chance to make some lasting change, built atop a foundation that didn't exist in 1993. With the introduction on Monday of legislation to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," we have to make that change happen. It's been too long coming to let it pass us by now.