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LGB acceptance in US military: a war worth fighting for

Obama signing repeal of DADT

By Patrick King Pascual, VERA Files

WASHINGTON D.C.-Maria (not her real name) is an officer in the United States Navy.  She has been serving her country for more than 20 years. She comes from a family who has served the government for a number of generations. She's a lesbian.

She has been in a different kind of conflict the past years. Should she "come out" and risk dismissal from a career she values?

She chose to remain in the service and broke off with her long time female partner.

To Maria, there was a higher consideration than her personal relationship. She was afraid that if the government found out that she's a lesbian, she would be asked to leave the service. She would lose  her benefits and other opportunities in the military would be all taken away.

Joe (not his real name) is an Army officer in the United States Armed Forces. He has been in the service for almost 20 years. He is gay. He has a long time male partner.

He recalls that whenever he reported every morning to his commander, he imagined he would be asked to leave the service because they discovered his real sexual orientation. He felt like there was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode anytime. He considered each day on duty as his last. It was a fear he was afraid to conquer.

Everything changed on September 20, 2011, when the "Don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy in the US military was repealed.

DADT became official policy on December 21, 1993. The policy prohibited military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual or bisexual service members or applicants, while barring openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons from military service.

The restrictions were mandated by United States federal law, which barred people who "demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts" from serving in the armed forces of the United States, because their presence "would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability."

There were at least 14,000 military personnel fired under the law.

Sen. John McCain and other Republicans used homophobia as part of their argument in support of DADT.

Removing gay members of the service became rampant as heterosexual members generally did not approve homosexuality. Openly LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) soldiers were greatly disadvantaged by the practice.

With DADT running it's full force, it significantly undermined the US military force. A report from Pentagon showed that 75 percent of young Americans were unqualified to serve in the military because of poor education, criminal records and weight problems.

But there were a great number of candidates who were smart, law-abiding and physically- fit but were refused and excluded because of their sexual orientation.

President Barrack Obama promised during his 2008 election campaign that he would work for the repeal of the laws that prohibit members of the LGB community from serving in the military.

In Obama's first State of the Union Address in 2010, he said that his administration has a Civil Rights Division that is once again prosecuting civil rights violations and the laws were strengthened to safeguard its citizens against crimes driven by hate.

McCain opposed Obama's plan to repeal DADT, saying that the policy has been successful for over 15 years and it is mostly supported by military in all levels.

On May 27, 2010, the House of Representatives adopted an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would lead to the repeal of DADT.

The Congress passed a stand-alone DADT bill on December 10, 2010. And the Senate passed the Congress' bill on December 18, 2010, by 65-31.

Obama signed the bill allowing for repeal of DADT on December 22, 2010.

December 15, the House passed a stand-alone DADT bill. And on September 20, 2011 DADT was finally certified to have been repealed.

"As of today, patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love. Our armed forces will no longer lose the extraordinary skills and combat experience of so many gay and lesbian services members," Obama said in a written statement.

It was a historic event not only for the Americans but for other countries that follow the same pattern of policy making.

Now, Maria and Joe are living their lives like any other heterosexual member of  the military  in the United States.

"Most people don't hold your sexual orientation against you. DADT is an option, not a mandatory thing, so if you don't want to out yourself, it's up to you," Maria said.

After DAD was repealed, some members of the military who were discharged have reapplied again and were reinstated.

"The feeling of putting your life at stake whenever you're in a war protecting the country you are most proud of is unexplainable and very fulfilling," Joe said.

In the Philippines, it's still very much a macho world.

There are at least 14 gays and eight lesbians in the Philippine Armed Forces according to a Philippine non-government organization. As long as their real identities are concealed, they are "one of the boys." There's no saying what will happen if they reveal the truth about themselves.

(Pascual is currently on a reporting tour in the United States sponsored by the State Department Foreign Press Center entitled "A Developing Narrative:LGBT Rights and Issues in the United States. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")

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