Five Years Later: The End Of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Is Historic Progress We Must Fight To Keep

 The U.S. Military District of Washington Joint Armed Forces Color Guard presents the colors at an LGBT Pride Observance
The U.S. Military District of Washington Joint Armed Forces Color Guard presents the colors at an LGBT Pride Observance

Today marks the five-year anniversary of the official end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) -- the archaic and deeply discriminatory law that barred gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans from serving openly in the military. The law had a profoundly negative impact on the military, was catastrophic to the lives of service members forced to serve in silence or lose their careers, and devastating to their families.

I speak from experience. My own service in the Marine Corps was cut short when I was forced out under DADT after refusing to continue hiding who I am. Since then, I’ve witnessed firsthand the profound progress toward equality we’ve made as a nation, and in our Armed Forces. It’s progress that would be imperiled under a Trump-Pence administration, underscoring the urgency with which we must fight to elect a President who will ensure the continuation of historic efforts to treat all service members with the dignity, equality, and respect they deserve.

Thanks to the repeal of DADT, and the recent end to outdated policies that prevented transgender people from serving, the LGBTQ community is finally able to openly and proudly serve our nation. The military now can recruit and retain our nation’s best and brightest, without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. Anyone who is qualified and willing to serve can do so. It’s a reality that in comparison to only a few short years ago seems like night and day. No longer does a service member have to worry about being seen with their family by the wrong person in public. No longer do some military spouses have to cross the threshold of their home each and every day and go to work pretending as if their family doesn’t exist. No longer do military kids have to go to school and avoid talking about their parents over fear of them losing their job.

The horrific realities these service members and military families faced each and every day under DADT is something I know too well. The tragic events of 9-11 led to my decision to enlist in the Marine Corps after college, and I was proud to honorably serve my country. After re-enlisting for another four years, I found myself at a point where I could no longer go on hiding something as basic as who I am. I wanted to continue to serve, but the law said I was suddenly unfit for duty, simply because I am gay. It was a moment of truth that changed my life forever.

I’m not able to re-enlist now because of my age, and I often wonder where life would have taken me if I was still serving my country on active duty. Thankfully, I’m able to continue my service in other ways, including by supporting my spouse who has served in the military for more than two decades. I’m also able to work each and every day with the Human Rights Campaign and the American Military Partner Association to ensure LGBTQ military families have the support they need and deserve. We must never go back to the dark days of DADT.

I can’t change what happened to me, but I can work to ensure that discrimination of the kind perpetrated by DADT never again finds a way into our nation’s laws. But make no mistake: the progress we’ve made over the last five years is reversible, and the stakes of this presidential election couldn’t be higher.

By surrounding himself with some of the nation’s most anti-LGBTQ activists, Donald Trump has threatened to roll back the LGBTQ equality gains we’ve made both in the military and out.

That’s just one of the reasons why I’m supporting Hillary Clinton for President of the United States. There is no doubt that she will continue building on the equality legacy of President Obama, ensuring that all service members are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. It’s progress worth fighting for.