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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On this historic day, let’s hear from those who weren’t asked and didn’t tell.

This morning, President Obama signed legislation that will bring an end to the 17-year-old ban on gays openly serving in the military. Members of his administration and other guests gathered in the Department of the Interior to witness the historic beginning of the end for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

That Clinton-Administration compromise allowed gays to serve in the military as long as they kept their sexuality a secret. Many were mute, but others who served before and during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era have been sharing their stories.

The Library of Congress chronicles their experiences in Serving in Silence, a collection of oral histories compiled as part of the Veterans History Project’s Experiencing War collection. Browse through those transcripts and you’ll read about the Korean War veteran who found life his as a gay man in a war zone far more liberating than the closeted one he led back home in the the pre-Stonewall-era United States. You’ll hear an Air Force veteran of the Persian Gulf War describe how her fear that her peers would learn she was gay led to her early retirement from the military.

I couldn't speak out. I was there when ... and I was working in a very close environment with a ... bunch of people inside ... during the whole time that Clinton was running and we know that the first time he ran, he was running on this platform of opening up the military ... to ... for gays and lesbians to serve openly. And so I felt then that I couldn't argue against the types of derogatory comments that I was hearing from my subordinates for fear of... being ... seen as a lesbian. 
The repeal, according to reports, will likely still take several months to implement. Read the Serving in Silence oral histories and you'll know what many have been waiting for decades to witness. The photo above of this morning's signing ceremony, comes from the Associated Press.

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