All American Soldiers Are Worthy of Our Respect

This month the drawdown of American troops will begin in Afghanistan, and my brother is coming home an American hero. I've always celebrated and honored those who serve and have served this great nation. These men and women stand in harm's way to protect the very principles that make this country great. They will always be my heroes.

Unfortunately, during the last GOP presidential debate, a video of a gay soldier serving in Iraq was met with disrespectful jeers from the crowd. But the most appalling act of all is that not one of the candidates on stage stood up to the "boos" of this American hero.

On Tuesday, Oct. 11 these candidates will again come together to strut their conservative credentials in yet another debate since the Fox News/Google debate nearly three weeks ago. As these candidates are trying out for the most important job in the world, commander-in-chief of our armed forces, it is not only appropriate but dignified for each candidate to apologize for the insensitive and intolerant reaction from the crowd.

No American service member away from their family and in harm's way should be subjected to this form of discrimination or blatant disrespect. Protecting the freedoms of others with your own life is the noblest form of patriotism, and this service should be deeply valued by Americans across the political spectrum, not carelessly admonished. All men and women in our armed services, including gay and lesbian service members, serve us honorably by risking their lives for liberty.

Even war hero and 2008 GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain said that "we should honor every man and woman who is serving in the military and should in no way treat them with anything but the highest regard." The key phrase is "every man and woman," not just our straight service members. While there is still work ahead, some progress has been made for lesbian and gay individuals serving in uniform: Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) was successfully repealed this year, thanks in large part to the courage of President Obama.

President Obama's administration has proven to be one of the LGBT community's most well-known straight allies, from extending employment protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity to championing the repeal of DADT. For nearly two decades, the DADT policy has cast a dark shadow over our national conscience and created unnecessary stress on many of our service members. Gay Americans feared not only losing their jobs by being dishonorably discharged but worried about losing their opportunity to serve the country they love.

While some anti-gay activists have tried to circulate propaganda against the repeal of DADT, the reality is that Americans serving openly in the military will strengthen our armed forces and make our society more inclusive. Gay Americans run successful businesses, serve in our government and honorably fight in our military. It is estimated that over 1 million lesbians and gay men are veterans, while approximately 71,000 currently serve in our military. Gay people are no different from any other Americans; they support our values, communities and our country.

The repeal of DADT is a step in the right direction, but more still needs to be done to ensure that our armed services are inclusive of us all. Polls show that Americans are more supportive than ever of fair policies for gay Americans and their families.

So, in the name of a more accepting society and for the sake of our service men and women overseas, we should all hope that those GOP candidates aspiring to be commander-in-chief stand up with one voice and express regret for condoning an inexcusable display of intolerance.