While it may feel different to our gay and lesbian servicemembers, it seems only yesterday that the discriminatory law known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was finally and formally repealed.
The date was September 20, 2011, and this is part of what the President of the United States said on the occasion:
Today, the discriminatory law known as ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is finally and formally repealed.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. As of today, our armed forces will no longer lose the extraordinary skills and combat experience of so many gay and lesbian service members.
Today’s achievement is a tribute to all the patriots who fought and marched for change …to the professionalism of our men and women in uniform who showed that they were ready to move forward together, as one team, to meet the missions we ask of them.
And moving forward they did — patriotically and professionally — including Army reserve officer Tammy Smith who was recently promoted to brigadier general.
Reacting to the new general’s expressions of excitement, humbleness and dedication, the “military newspaper” Stars and Stripes comments:
What she glosses over is that along with the promotion she is also publicly acknowledging her sexuality for the first time, making her the first general officer to come out as gay while still serving. It comes less than a year after the end of the controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” law.
The Stripes adds:
But Smith’s pinning ceremony on Friday marks an important milestone for gay rights advocates, giving the movement its most senior public military figure. She has already been assigned as deputy chief at the Office of the Chief at the Army Reserve, and spent much of 2011 serving in Afghanistan.
Indicative of the atmosphere before the repeal of DADT, in a Stars and Stripes interview last summer, Smith spoke under a pseudonym and said that she “had no plans to come out to her colleagues, but was looking forward to the relief of knowing that her career wouldn’t be threatened if she was found out.”
Today, her career rather than being threatened has been significantly advanced, thanks to the end of an era of discrimination and prejudice against our gay and lesbian servicemembers.
The Stars and Stripes notes that Smith is not the first gay general officer, “just the first who is able to serve without hiding that fact for fear of her career.”
Referring to Smith’s wife, Sue Fulton, an Army veteran and a member of the OutServe board of directors says, “It is a great day for our military and for our nation when this courageous leader is finally able to recognize her wife for her support and sacrifice in the same way that all military families should be recognized for their service to our country.”
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis called Smith a role model for all senior enlisted troops and officers.
“[She] made history today, not only as an exemplary servicemember who renders outstanding service to our nation with integrity and honor, but as a proud lesbian acknowledging the tremendous sacrifice her family makes in order for her to serve and advance,” he said.
For her part, Smith downplayed any talk about her place in history.
“For me, the story is about the promotion and the opportunities it brings,” she said.
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The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.