Over the past few days, a couple of significant actions occurred that are positive for the LGBT community. One was the President's declaration that June is LGBT Pride Month (OK, so we all knew that to be true, but we haven't had the White House officially recognize us this way ever before!). The more important and significant event was the vote in Congress to repeal the seventeen-year-old Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy that has resulted in hundreds of servicemen and women being forced out of the military because of their sexual orientation.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 229-186 to adopt the defense spending measure that contains language repealing DADT... and the Senate's Armed Services Committee voted 16-12 for an amendment which will begin the procedure of repealing DADT after the Defense Department completes a study in December of this year. Senate Republicans, most notably Vietnam veteran John McCain, are threatening to filibuster the bill and prevent it from a vote before the Congressional recess in July.
Putting the politics aside, what this is about is service. Service to country, in this case. I am not sure what motivates a person to want to join the military. I wanted to be in the Navy ROTC in college, until I actually spoke with an officer at the University of Kansas campus. That's all I needed to be convinced that me, and military service, would not be compatible. But there are those who feel called to enter the armed forces... either because they feel it is a duty or they see it as the type of structured environment that can give them a purpose in life. Whatever it is, this drive to serve is not restricted to straight Americans, and the ridiculous ban on LGBT people in the military... where they can serve, but only if they keep silent on their sexual orientation... has cost our country in losing really talented soldiers at a time when we need them. That's what Lt. Dan Choi, the decorated West Point graduate, proved when he was dismissed under the policy. And there are many others like him.
As I think about this Memorial Day, I offer prayers for those who are currently serving both here and in foreign nations. I think about their families and how they live with the uncertainty of the safety of those in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. I pray that God is with them and will continue to move us to the day that we solve our conflicts in ways that do not result in putting our troops in dangerous situations.
At the same time, as countless people will talk about our soldiers "defending freedom", I pray for the Republicans and Democrats and President and Pentagon to simply get on with repealing DADT. Because there is something repugnant to me about asking a young man or woman to defend freedom when they themselves are not free, and (depending where they're from) may live in a state where, even as a civilian, they face obstacles in being truly free.
The Book of Common Prayer offers prayers for those serving in our Armed Forces. But it also has a prayer for those who Suffer for the Sake of Conscience, which includes these lines:
...when they are accused, save them from speaking in hate; when they are rejected, save them from bitterness; when they are imprisoned, save them from despair; and to us your servants, give grace to respect their witness and to discern the truth, that our society may be cleansed and strengthened.
As long as DADT is allowed to stand and military personnel are expelled for being "non-straight", I believe our LGBT troops are in need of the above words as well as those where we call on God to "defend them day by day with your heavenly grace." Hopefully, this will be the last Memorial Day where the gay servicemen and women in our military will have to remain in the closet.
We remember those who have given up their lives for the people of this nation. That's all people, and the soldiers themselves have come from the gay and straight population. It is time to stop making some of our troops suffer in conscience while patrolling for freedom.