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Until Saturday, I had only attended Pride incognito. I used to ride my motorcycle with another airman to San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose, and other CA Pride Festivals. We took nothing that might identify us with the military. We stayed at separate locations over night, and we worked out a “Divert and Separate” plan in case we saw anyone we knew. We had fun, but we never dropped our guard. We observed the SLDN booth from a distance; we never even considered putting our names on a page that brought attention to our disapproval of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT) law. Little did I know that six months later, I would talk on the phone daily with this organization fighting for the word “honorable” on my discharge papers.
When I took my uniform off on the day I received my honorable discharge, I never considered wearing it again. This past Saturday, I put it back on. I signed the petition to repeal DADT along with many other Pride attendees in Augusta, GA. I stood behind the table and told every inquirer about SLDN, how they had helped me, and why DADT is wrong. I explained those months of hiding from the other service members who were supposed to be my comrades, my support. I mentioned how it felt to watch my fellow airmen leave base to spend time with their heterosexual partners while I lived in fear that I would be “found out.”
Two of the three volunteers at Augusta Pride were DADT victims. We sat under a canopy in 96-degree heat for eight hours. We also led the parade with a three-member color guard. It was a long, hard day, but the work rewarded me and invigorated me. We answered all the opposing questions. We encouraged supporters to sign and call senators. Yet, none impressed me as much as the current service members. Unlike the days when I avoided SLDN, these new military members walked up to our booth, shook our hands, and told us their stories. Each one left with a “Pocket Survival Guide,” and some actually signed the petition, shocking me with their boldness. “It is a new era,” said one sailor in a T-shirt sporting his favorite band; “We know who’s gonna win, we’re just waitin’ for the end of the fight.”
When my partner in ACU trousers and sand shirt and I in my ABU trousers and sand shirt walked to get lunch, we held hands. I had no fear of who might see me. Those who knew that I was a DADT victim and that we were with SLDN gave us thumbs up, or pat on the back. I felt affirmed. For the first time in uniform, I felt appreciated. I pictured a day when sailors could live together without fearing their own. I imagined an America where lesbian soldiers spread out their sheet for a picnic on base.
I hoped for this new era when all service members were equal, and I felt proud to be an American.