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The Day the Wall Came Down: One Gay Soldier on the End of Don't Ask, Don't Tell

We are now armed with our most powerful weapon yet: a voice.

The following are my own personal thoughts and beliefs; I am not speaking on behalf of the Department of Defense or the United States Army.

Jubilation, excitement, relief, fear. This is the array of emotions many of us felt just days ago when the battered and decrepit old wall of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell finally came down. It was a day that many of us never believed would come. The wall had stood for so many years, a great barrier that was nearly impossible to even approach. The thought that one day we would wake up and it would suddenly be gone barely crossed our minds.

For many like me, the wall was always present. Whether we were involved in the most menial task or the largest mission, we could always see it somewhere towering in the distance. The threat of losing our profession for something as small as holding hands with our loved ones remained ever present in the backs of our minds. This great wall was not a physical structure in some far off, foreign land. It was right here, in our own country. And behind the wall, our suffering was mostly silent. The injustices could never even pass our lips. We began to believe we were second-class citizens, less than human, forced into leading two lives.

Over the past year, though, a support organization of gay and lesbian service members had built up in secret. Comprised of the lowest enlisted members to some of the highest ranking officers, we had become united. When we were unable to speak our minds or share our thoughts in the open, we had each other. There are now more than 4,000 members of this group, called Outserve. To say that the members of this organization are the bravest men and women I know would be an understatement. Many of us raised our right hand and swore an oath to serve at a time when our nation was at war on two fronts. We knew we were unable to be ourselves, we knew the odds were high that we would march off to war, and we did it anyway because we also knew it to be the right thing to do. While our country may not have always wanted us, we knew in our hearts that it always needed us.

Now that the wall has been toppled, the fire within us has been stoked anew. Some of us took to the streets to celebrate, some called home to tell our parents the most difficult words that would ever exit our mouths. The rest of us took a moment to breathe a sigh of relief, but we knew the feeling of elation would last only briefly. There are more walls that we hope to one day see torn down. Until then our long, shared journey will remain far from complete.

With Don't Ask, Don't Tell out of the way, we are now armed with our most powerful weapon: a voice. Our newfound voice allows us to finally speak out against the injustice brought upon us, to finally bring light to the darkest corners of our maltreatment, to finally show that we are no different. When we are in combat we sweat the same sweat, and when we are shot we bleed the same blood. When we die, we are buried under the same American flag. We love this nation and our Constitution—and we agreed to defend them both at a time when less than 1 percent of the population was willing to step up and do the same.

Sept. 20, 2011 is a day we will always remember, the day the wall came down. To every other man or woman or family that has endured the hardships caused by the misguided reach of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, remember the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson: We are “One equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will.” Our days of striving and seeking are far from numbered, but I can guarantee we will never yield.

Photo (cc) via Flickr user theslowlane.

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