Rob Smith is an openly gay Iraq war veteran, journalist, author, lecturer, and LGBT Activist. He served for 5 years in the United States Army as an Infantryman, earning the Army Commendation Medal and Combat Infantry Badge. After graduating with honors from Syracuse University, he became a noted journalist, with work published at Salon.com, USA Today, CNN.com, and The Huffington Post among many others.
This year, we celebrate only the second Memorial Day in history in which lesbian, gay, and bisexual soldiers are allowed to openly serve in the United States Military. As a gay veteran myself who served under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in Operation Iraqi Freedom exactly 10 years ago this year, it seemed completely outside of the realm of possibility to me at the time that gays would one day be able to be out and proud while serving their country. What I wasn’t aware of, however, was not only the rich history of gay veterans who’d served before me but also those who would take up the mantle in the next few years and take the fight against DADT all the way to the White House. What I also didn’t know is that I would be one of them. In November of 2010, I joined fellow LGBT military veterans and activists protesting DADT and was arrested at the front gates of the White House. Less than 30 days later, I was attending the signing of the legislation that repealed the discriminatory law once and for all.
While the end of DADT was an important step forward in recognizing the service of lesbian, gay, and bisexual veterans, there is still work that needs to be done. Transgender people still aren’t allowed to serve openly, there remains no nondiscrimination policy based on sexual orientation in the United States Armed Forces, and the fight for same-sex military partner benefits on par with what spouses in heterosexual relationships receive is very much ongoing. Still, the demise of DADT is something to celebrate, though on this Memorial Day when we traditionally stop as a country to recognize our fallen soldiers, we need to remember that we have fallen LGBT brothers and sisters as well. In our CNN/MSNBC/YouTube era, we like to assign wins to one particular person or organization, but many, many people and organizations took a part in the ultimate demise of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
On this Memorial Day, let’s recognize some of the lesser-known heroes of this movement. Here, we can celebrate a few of our trailblazers, our fallen, and those who are going to lead the LGBT soldiers’ movement into the future.