Pentagon Officially Ends "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Policy

Pentagon Officially Ends "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Policy

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WASHINGTON — Sarah Pezzat, 31, couldn’t hold back her tears. At first glance, she seems like a strong person. One might even guess that she serves in the United States Armed Forces. But yesterday, when she stood before the press, she couldn’t contain her emotion. It was the first time she said openly, to everyone, that she is a lesbian.

That’s because yesterday, 18 years after it took effect, the Pentagon officially ended the  “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy, that banned gay and lesbian members of the Armed Forces from openly declaring their sexual preference.

Pezzat’s uncertainty was palpable as she was speaking with La Opinion. "My colleagues did not know,” she said. Pezzat is currently on reserve and works for the Department of Logistics at the Pentagon. Her dream is to be sent to Afghanistan and work with women in the area of cultural sensitivity. She is confident that her experience in the service now will be very different than what she experienced before, when she was forced to conceal her sexual orientation.

“The Policy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ made my life miserable for a long time. I am grateful.
As a person I feel that today's armed forces have been strengthened and will be more consistent," said Pezzat.

"Tomorrow [today] will be an interesting day at work. I don’t know how my colleagues will react. I have told only one person close to me, a friend, and at least he reacted well," she said

Official estimates indicate that nearly 13,000 troops have been expelled as a consequence of DADT. Statistics from the Williams Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) indicate that there are over 70,500 gay military personnel who are actively serving or have retired.

In December 2010, Congress passed legislation to reject the policy, which was promulgated by President Barack Obama. Since then, the various military branches have established a transition process that has included training sessions and staff training.

"Today we are stronger, more tolerant, more consistent with our values. I think we did all that was needed to finalize the implementation of this policy. We train our forces. Tomorrow everyone will arise and go to work and that is all that matters," stressed, Admiral Mike Mullen Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Asked about how they handle cases of harassment, if they occur, the Secratary of Defense, Leon Panetta, said that "there is zero tolerance" against such practices. "My hope is that the command structure operates with the ongoing disciplinary standards and to ensure that this does not happen," he said.

Various civil rights organizations see the elimination of DADT as the first step. A battle that may be before many others in the future. One of these is the elimination of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Its definition describes marriage as the exclusive union of one man and one woman. As a result, the federal government can exclude providing benefits to homosexual partners of its employees, as well as in cases of some heterosexual marriages.

"This is a big step but there is still much more work ahead. DOMA should be eliminated, (beacuse it) limitis regulations that impact housing for military families, access to legal services and support for transfers. We will also continue fighting with little infrastructure prepared to handle incidents of discrimination and harassment of gay service members," said Joe Solmonese, president of Human Rights Campaign.

Yesterday, the group of senators who urged the rejection of DADT, including Susan Collins (R-ME), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Carl Levin (D-MI) were consulted regarding their support to eliminate DOMA.

Gillibrand said she was "working on it," while  Lieberman gave some support for the measure and,  Collins did not comment.

A little over a year away from the (2012) elections, such controversial issues as the definition of marriage have a slim chance of success.

Civil rights organizations know this, but insist they have plenty of patience.

Optimists emphasize that at the beginning of the last Congress, bets about the demise of DADT were low, but yesterday the goal of ending it was reached.