Last week, the 18-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy officially ended. Gay servicemen and women can now serve openly in the US military. I have served in a combat unit and know the intense pressure that creates a sense of camaraderie and a strong bond between soldiers. The idea that one of the men in my unit had to hide a part of his identity (there weren’t women in our unit) from us is truly astonishing. The additional pressure that it must have put on these brave men and women is incomprehensible.
It is believed that more than 13,000 men and women were kicked out of the armed forces when it was discovered they were gay.
I would like to pay tribute to 1st Lt. Josh Seefried, a 25-year-old active-duty Air Force officer, who is a gay rights activist, and risked his career to see this achieved. Seefried, highlighted in a New York Times article, made contact with and organized about 4,000 gay members of the military who were in hiding and worked hard to overturn the policy. He did this using a pseudonym, J. D Smith, which he can now discard.
Seefried, who was harassed and outed when an officer discovered he was gay, and then was ‘temporary removed’ from his job, created a organization called OutServe, He took the courageous step of speaking publicly at the State University of New York at Oswego.
All Seefried sought was :“When I go to a Christmas party, I can actually bring the person I’m in a relationship with. And that’s a huge relief.”
Now he has that. He should have had it a long time ago, but better late than never.
Why the title? Elaine Donnelly, a longtime opponent of allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces, commented that “as of Tuesday the commander in chief will own the San Francisco military he has created.”
I have long thought that San Francisco should follow the Berkeley initiative from the 60’s and declare independence! I would be proud to have these fine men and women in our army, and I am proud to have them in the US army. There are only two words that we should be saying to them: Thank You!
Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).