On Saturday, members of the Armed Forces, their families, friends and supporters gathered at the National Building Museum in DC for the 20th annual Servicemembers Legal Defense Network national dinner—the first such gala since the full repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in September.
Senior Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett (right) delivered the keynote address, thanking servicemembers on behalf of the President for their sacrifices.
She also shared a personal story about SLDN staffer David Hall:
In 1996, David joined the Air Force, just like his father and stepfather before him. At Langley Air Force Base, he was one of the top airmen in his flight, and as a weapons loader, he won the Airman of the Quarter award. David served overseas in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, was a distinguished graduate of Airman Leadership School, and was accepted to the Air Force ROTC. In March 2002, he received a slot to train to be a pilot – only about 500 cadets nationwide receive this honor each year.
David was a rising star in our nation’s military, and like all brave men and women who wear the uniform, David made enormous sacrifices for the sake of our country. However, David was forced to live a lie, and always look over his shoulder, because of who he loved.
Then, his promising career was upended, and he was discharged, just for being gay. At the time, he was the highest ranking Air Force ROTC junior in his detachment.
I’m telling David’s story tonight not just because he is a remarkable person – and not just to make him blush. I’m telling his story because it is the story of so many of you, and so many patriotic servicemembers who were forced to live the same kind of lie that David lived, and were discharged, despite serving our country with honor and distinction. That was wrong, and it did not reflect our country’s highest ideals.
Of course, fortunately, David’s story did not end with his discharge. Even when he was barred from serving our country, he never stopped fighting to make it better. Today, he works full time at SLDN, as the Development Director and Information Technology Director.
Like us, Jarret says she’s stunned by how easily the transition to an open military has been:
I’m sure that all of you have seen some of the recent pictures of gay and lesbian servicemembers sharing an embrace, or first kiss with a loved one, when they return home from duty—just like any other family. It’s a reminder that the men and women of our armed forces have handled repeal with the professionalism and class that we have come to expect from the finest fighting force in the world.
Man, if we didn’t love a man in uniform before...
Photo via Joyce Boghosian