Joe Mirabella

Reflections on Witnessing the DADT Repeal Bill Signing Ceremony

Filed By Joe Mirabella | December 23, 2010 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, bill signing, Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal, Washington, White House

I'm on my flight home to Seattle from Washington, D.C. after witnessing the repeal of IMG_5688.jpg"Don't Ask, Don't Tell's" signing ceremony this morning at the Department of Interior. After receiving an invitation from the White House, I could not say no.

I stayed with Bil and Jerame last night. Mike Rogers stopped by and we hugged and chatted about the signing ceremony in the morning. We made arrangements to meet. Mike likes to show up later to these kinds of events. He has been to more than me. This was my first, so I wanted to be there early.

After the visit I spooned with Bil's gigantic dog for a short nap. The dog was the big spoon.

Bil, Jerame, and I caught up on life outside of politics -- things that friends talk about when no one else is around.

We got up early -- 5:00 AM -- so I probably have no business writing now, but I am. We shared the bathroom and commented on our suits. I've never seen Bil in a suit before. Most people haven't.

We shared a cab from their apartment to the Department of Interior where a line was already forming. David Mixner was making his way inside. The rest of us stood in line waiting in the winter chill.

(You can click any of the pictures to see them full sized.)

Chris Geidner was in line. We exchanged hugs and reflected on the moment.

Once we took my spot at the back of the line, Jerame pointed at people and said, "that's so and so" and "you know who that is don't you?" I nodded and smiled.

Robin McGehee arrived with her son. We hugged.

As the line began to move inside, I could feel the adrenaline surge. We crowded into a small auditorium, a large portion of which was consumed by a platform for news cameras. Giant spotlights lit the room in awkwardly bright light. A small desk with the Presidential insignia was set next to the podium where the bill would be signed. IMG_5702.jpg

Once inside I made my way around the room greeting other writers and advocates I know. It was nice to see them there. These are my friends and people who I know work incredibly hard getting our community's story out to a larger audience.

I also took the opportunity to meet people I have never met before. Col. Greta Cammermeyer was there. She is also from Washington so I wanted to personally thank her for her sacrifices. I was later pleased to see her introduce the Vice President.

I briefly met Brian Bond. He was very friendly, but clearly still working. He tapped, tapped, tapped, at his blackberry while adjusting his glasses. I don't think we will ever fully understand how incredible his influence was on making sure DADT was repealed on time. I am grateful.

Lt. Dan Choi was in the room. I can't imagine how this moment felt for him.

IMG_5710.jpgI met Joe Solmonese. He is far shorter in person than I expected. He joked about getting flack for accepting responsibility for making sure DADT was repealed. "If we would have lost this they would have blamed me, so since we got this, I might as well take credit too," he laughed. Considering the enormous amount of negative energy coming his way all the time, I was glad he could laugh. I doubt I would be so jovial under similar circumstances.

I decided to move on to people I know better. I chatted it up with Adam Bink, Meghan Stabler, Heather Cronk, JD Smith, Rick Jacobs and nearly the entire crew of contributors for SameSexSunday. It was nice to finally see each other after months of conversation via Skype leading up to this moment.

When Speaker Pelosi, Harry Reid, Joe Lieberman, Admiral Mullin, Patrick Murphy, Olympia Snowe, and others finally emerged on stage, a strange patriotic song played. It sounded like someone was playing an old record. They smiled. We applauded. The music stopped. Pelosi's smile stopped. The music started. Pelosi smiled. The music stopped, and so did the smile. The music resumed, and so did the grin. It was bizarre. It was an unintentional metaphor for the progress on this bill. IMG_5741.jpg

Finally the Vice President stopped the music by entering stage right. He recognized those on stage -- and then -- the President emerged from behind the curtain.

The crowd erupted. The President's tone went from somber and reflective to a crescendo of energy unlike anything I have ever experienced, "... And this is a country where every man and woman is created equal!" He preached as the crowd took to their feet.

IMG_5757.jpgHe walked from the podium to the little desk where he signed the bill. I kept saying over and over in my head, "You are watching history happen right now."

Being invited to experience this was humbling. The community in Seattle pitched in to get me there and I will always be grateful for that. But as I'm sitting in a jet heading west, I cannot help but wish more people were there.

IMG_5836.jpgThe opportunity to witness moments that are clearly going to change lives for gay and lesbian service members, and the entire gay community over time as the house of cards comes tumbling down, is too big for a small auditorium full of people. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone who called their representative, who knocked on doors, who talked to a co-worker, who contributed money, who updated their status, who phone banked -- wouldn't it be nice if we could have stood in one giant space together to see this watershed moment?

The seminal moments forthcoming for our community will likely be decided in small court rooms. Cases are already making their way through the system. It is a matter of time. There may never be a chance like today again.

This moment was ours. For the first time in history a stand alone bill was passed that communicated a message to our country that gays and lesbians are worthy citizens -- if there were only a room big enough for us all to stand together.

IMG_5934.jpgAfter the event, I ate, then wrote in a coffee shop with Bil. Later, I met up with Thomas Pitchford, from Equal Rights Washington, who helped raise the funds that in part made this trip possible. He and his partner took me on a quick tour of DC.

"You've got to see the Lincoln Memorial. You've got to!" they said.

They took me to the steps where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream Speech." I looked out at the reflecting pool and tried to imagine what throngs of people looking back at you with hope in their hearts would feel like. Our first gay President, Abraham Lincoln towering behind me, I held my breath, as I felt the tears welling up. I stood their today, because Martin Luther King stood their before. His sacrifice made Barack Obama's Presidency possible, which also made this bill possible. IMG_5976.jpg

And now, all of us in that room, who had the rare and unique opportunity to witness a moment that took over 40 years to create will go back to our lives. I will hug my partner tonight with the security of knowing that life is getting better for us in this country. I leave Washington, DC, knowing that someday, we will all stand together as free and equal citizens of the United States and the world.

I cannot wait to stand in that moment with you.

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Nice. Not to quibble, but James Buchanan who preceeded Lincoln was gay enough to have it commented upon by contemporaries (though one always has to be careful about comments from political adversaries). The case for Lincoln is far less clear, though I am willing to believe it.

..and we will stand in that moment.
We will.

Thanks, Joe.

I saw the event on CNN and I was impressed. However, I was not happy when he said, "We are a country who welcomes the service of all patriots. We are a country where all men and women are created equal." To me, those were hollow words that do not ring true, at least for trans people. We are "patriots" who are still not welcome to serve. But, I am extremely happy for my LGB brothers and sisters.

On my Christmas wish list is that in 2011, national organizations will turn their attention to helping us to be able to serve openly.

Stuart Wilber | December 24, 2010 10:10 AM

As I watched the signing on TV and some videos shot by friends who were at the event, I understood better Monica's sense of exclusion; not one service person or public official and only one activist mentioned the exclusion of trans people. There are documented examples of trans people serving in the Civil War - one of these days there will be real equality in the Armed Forces. I echo your Christmas wish, Monica.

Paul in Canada | December 23, 2010 3:33 PM

Nice thoughts - thanks for your reflections.

MonicaHelms - thanks too for reminding us that we (all) have a long way to go before we 'realize' true equality for all! Well said!

Thank you Alex. I have several hundred more if you want them :)

If I had known you were there Joe, I would have enjoyed meeting you. Or the least I can say it would have been interesting.

I can say without equivocation, it would have been lovely to meet you Tom.

One huge statement, unfortunately missed by most, is manifest in the last picture. Of all the people Dan Choi could have invited as his Plus One, he chose transgender Navy vet, Autumn Sandeen, the first person from the left in the picture. As most know, she was arrested twice with Dan at the White House, and accompanied him later that day to witness Harry Reid return Dan's West Point ring to him.

Thank you for that information Michael. I spoke with Autumn, but I did not realize she was Dan's guest. I'm glad I had the chance to capture this photo.

Actually, the invitations were specific that there was no "+1" - it was invitee only. She wasn't Dan's guest. She was invited in her own right and shouldn't have to be attached to someone else to be honored for that.