Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A step forward, a step back

At 12:01 AM Eastern Time, the United States Armed Forces' policy commonly known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell ceased to exist after 17 years. Being as it's a policy that primarily affects the US Military, I suppose it's more appropriate to say that it occurred at 0001 hours, but either way, the policy has been officially repealed, and I breathed a sigh of relief as a result. I have a number of friends who serve in our armed forces, of which only one is a member of the LGBTQ community, but have spoken with all of them at one point or another about Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and whether or not the effect it had on "unit cohesion" in the military was the one that was intended. The general consensus has been that no, the policy was a failure and had been virtually since the date of its implementation.

To be fair to President Clinton, at the time that he signed the bill into law, it was a compromise that did actually make an improvement. Prior to the existence of DADT, servicemembers were often discharged from the military on just the base suspicion or rumor that they might be gay. Comparably, a policy that made it illegal for Commanders to ask questions, harass the men and women under their command, and pursue information that they had no need of to conduct day-to-day business within their unit, was a great improvement. The failure of the policy came from the fact that if someone was being asked, harassed, or pursued, it was difficult for them to report it to their superiors without having to tacitly admit that the harassment they were receiving had a basis in fact.

I could continue on with the reasons that it's wonderful this policy has gone away, but the long and short is that it has been thrown to the cesspool, and good riddance to it. To those in our Armed Forces who have been forced to stay silent as a result of this policy, know that I will be forever grateful for the work you do for our country, and for the sacrifices you have made to date for the sake of your dedication to that job. I am proud to live in a time where you have been given the opportunity to serve your country openly and as yourself. Now comes the great responsibility of proving that we are right about ourselves and our colleagues; that open service will not have any adverse effect on the ability of our military to do its job.

In particular, I'd also like to commend this young man, who has been chronicling his journey as a servicemember in the closet, until very early this morning, when he showed his face to the world, and told his father that he is gay. His journey has been inspiring, and the reactions of his fellow airmen in the field give me hope that things really are changing.

So there is our step forward. Regrettably, now I must look to our step back.

In Buffalo, New York, a fourteen-year-old boy named Jamey Rodemayer took his own life on Sunday after enduring years of bullying for being gay. He was a freshman in high school, loved Lady Gaga, had a very active Tumblr account, and had even recorded an It Gets Better video to inspire others to look to their future to help them survive their present. I don't even know how to express what I felt as I read the articles, listened to his It Gets Better video, watched a television interview with his parents. There is a sense of grief for this child, literally half my age, who should not be gone. Sorrow for his family, left to pick up the pieces and try to make sense of what happened, and bless them, who are trying to use their son's tragedy as a message that things have to change.

I feel helpless, and angry at that sense of helplessness. I didn't even know this boy's name until I saw it in an article talking about this tragedy, and yet somehow, my heart is crying out with this sense of responsibility, as if somehow I could have helped. Last year, I recorded my own It Gets Better video, as have countless others. It is not enough.

I ask that those who are reading this to do me a favor. Tell his story. Link it, blog it, talk about it with your friends, your family, your children, your parents, your co-workers, your legislators, your school board. Tell his story, and tell it with this message; Things must change. We cannot continue to allow our children to feel there is nowhere to turn, no one to talk to. Look at the face of a boy gone too soon, and feel angry about his death.

It gets better, but we who have the ability to help make a difference, have the responsibility of doing so.