For 17 years, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) prohibited qualified gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans from serving in the Armed Forces and sent a message that discrimination was acceptable. When President Obama signed the DADT repeal bill just over five years ago, the ban was placed exactly where it belongs - in the dustbin of history. Unfortunately for me, it was too late. Having proudly served in the United States Marine Corps, I was one of those service members who were discharged under DADT simply because I refused to continue to try to hide the fact that I am gay. I saw first hand the damage DADT caused.
So, I want to make sure people fully understand what it meant when Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson recently said that, if elected, he would consider taking us back to a time when highly trained gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members were fired simply because of who they are. And I want people to understand what it means when he talks about opposing the Pentagon's current review of outdated regulations that prevent transgender service members from serving authentically.
After an exodus of campaign staff, Carson's new campaign chairman said the military must re-evaluate policies that allow gay, lesbian, and bisexual troops to serve openly and women to serve in combat. Rather than repudiate these backward and archaic views, Carson appallingly agreed he would be open to the idea.
My husband is one of those service members Ben Carson would consider firing, despite his more than 20 years of honorable service. As a United States Marine who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, he has sacrificed a tremendous amount for our great nation -- and still does each and every day. Yet, Carson would be willing to consider firing him--and thousands more active duty service members who have come out--for no other reason than because he is gay.
Put another way, Carson's statement reflected a willingness to fire thousands of active duty service members the moment he were to become Commander in Chief. That is dangerously foolish, and the Human Rights Campaign has called on all candidates to immediately make clear that DADT should remain a relic of the past.
From World War II until the end of DADT, an estimated 114,000 service members were discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation. We've certainly made enormous progress since then, and now gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members proudly serve our nation openly and honestly.
With Secretary of Defense Ash Carter's historic announcement last July that the Pentagon will consider lifting the ban on transgender service members, it's my hope that the estimated 15,000 transgender troops currently serving in silence will be able to openly serve very soon. The government owes that to them.
Carson has a long history of offensive rhetoric, including expressing his preference for DADT and calling for segregated bathrooms for transgender people. It might be easy to dismiss that rhetoric as political pandering, but during an election year when so much is at stake for our community, we have to take it seriously. Should such rhetoric ever become policy, it would have devastating consequences.
Instead, I hope we choose a leader who defends the values my husband fights for -- justice, equality, and freedom -- and who will serve as honorably and courageously.