Gay-rights advocates celebrate repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell'

Isaac Kelly: Former soldier was honorably discharged for being gay and since has led local group Augusta Pride.

 

Through a careful segregation of his military career and his personal life, Isaac Kelly managed to slip under the radar of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

He was eventually outed by an e-mail about gay rights and confronted by a new captain in his unit. That led to an honorable discharge from the Army in 2003.

For thousands of other homosexual troops, that will no longer be an issue with Tuesday’s repeal of the 18-year-old policy, a compromise crafted in 1993 after President Clinton failed to lift a ban on gays serving in the military that had been enacted during World War II.

The policy’s repeal was signed by President Obama in December; it launched seven months of preparation by the military for the policy shift, including sensitivity training.

In an interview with American Forces Press Services, Army Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton, the chief of staff for the Pentagon’s repeal implementation team, said the repeal “will strengthen the military.”

“It will continue to allow us to keep gay and lesbian service members in the military, and we will be a better military for it,” he stated.

Tuesday was 60 days after the date in July when the president certified to Congress that the armed forces were prepared to implement the repeal “in a manner that is consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness (and) unit cohesion ...”

Denny Meyer, the public affairs officer for American Veterans for Equal Rights, said the Pentagon made extensive preparation in advance of the change.

“They really want to make this happen right,” he said.

Meyer said Tuesday was not expected to be a watershed day, with thousands of troops coming clean about their sexual orientation.

He said that most of their colleagues already know and that most people are OK with it.

Kelly, a past president of Augusta Pride, which organizes an annual gay pride parade, said it was a struggle at times to balance conversations with other soldiers and not give away his sexual orientation, but he found ways around it.

“You can say ‘the old lady’ and still mean your partner. You just transfer the lingo,” he said with a laugh.

Kelly believes that the shift in the policy is a step forward for the next generation of homosexuals serving in the military.

“I’m just glad it’s done,” he said. “It was ridiculous from the beginning. Now we can focus on bigger issues.”

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