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Connie Schultz
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Do Ask, Do Tell

Comment

The young man was scared and exhausted as he faced the webcam in the wee hours of the morning and prepared to call his father.

He was sitting in his bedroom in Germany, where he is stationed at a U.S. Air Force base. A map of the world hung on the wall behind him, but he was focused on what awaited him in America.

"I'm probably about as nervous as I can ever remember being," he said into the camera. "I'm about to call my dad in Alabama."

The timing for his call Tuesday was intentional. The U.S. military had just put an end to its "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which for 18 years had required gay and lesbian members of the military to keep their sexual orientation a secret.

For the first time in the life of this 21-year-old senior airman — later identified by The Washington Post as Randy Phillips — he didn't have to worry about being lawfully persecuted for being honest about who he is.

Congress repealed DADT, but it can't legislate a loved one's heart. Phillips was scared to tell his father.

"I wish I wasn't going against the grain," he said in a YouTube video last spring, titled "I didn't choose to be gay." His face was partially obscured. "I wish this wasn't something that wasn't expected of me. I wish ... I went along with what my parents planned for me and what they thought I would develop into. And it's not."

He was ready to go public, face-forward, and he wanted to do it by coming out to his father. It was clear he had no idea how this call was going to go.

He dialed his father's number, set it to speakerphone.

"My heart is beating like crazy," he whispered.

His father answered with a cheerful hello.

"Can I tell you something?" Phillips asked his dad. "Will you love me, serious?"

"Yes," his father said.

"Dad, I'm gay."

"Yikes," his father said.

"Do you still love me?"

I could barely look at the screen; I was so scared for this boy, who's younger than all of my kids.

Please.

Please.

His father didn't miss a beat.

"I still love you, son," he said gently, as if he were sitting right next to him.

A few moments later, his father said it again.

"I still love you, and I will always love you, and I will always be proud of you."

One down. Thousands of loved ones to go.

If you are close to someone who is gay, it's likely you've heard his or her stories of abandonment by people who were supposed to love that person. These are heartbreaking narratives about mothers and fathers, siblings and used-to-be best friends. They are sometimes stories of forgiveness, too, in which the intolerant are beneficiaries of unearned grace.

UCLA's Williams Institute estimates that 70,500 lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are currently serving in the U.S. military. Many of them will continue to live secret lives because a change in the law doesn't change everything else that comes with being gay in America.

Still, it is possible to be hopeful and imagine those unfolding moments when, one by one, gay and lesbian members of our military finally feel free to be themselves.

To a point.

The repeal of DADT does not bring full rights to gays and lesbians who are putting their lives on the line for our country. The Defense of Marriage Act, another federal law, defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. This effectively prohibits same-sex partners' access to military privileges afforded to heterosexual spouses. No trips to the base commissary, for example, or medical treatment at base clinics.

"We follow the law here," Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a news conference when asked about spousal benefits. "DOMA, that law, restricts some of the issues that you talk about. We're going to follow that law as long as it exists."

My, what we ask of our gay brothers and sisters in America.

How we count on them to forgive us, one rectified injustice at a time.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2011 CREATORS.COM



Comments

12 Comments | Post Comment
Connie, so glad to be able to read your thought provoking articles without having to read the PD. But, you are misrepresenting what the DADT act actually did. It allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the military. It made it illegal to ask and did not make it mandatory to tell. Before DADT, it was a dischargeable offense to be gay/lesbian and got you an "undesirable" discharge. I recently read of a World War II soldier that just got his honorable discharge after years of being "undesirable". I feel that President Clinton compromised by passing the DADT act to get it through the GOP Congress. Hmm, compromise - what a novel idea!
Comment: #1
Posted by: kasw
Wed Sep 21, 2011 4:38 PM
As the mother of a dearly loved gay young man, I am so grateful to you, Connie, for your brilliant insight and courage. DOMA'S gotta go!
Comment: #2
Posted by: Jane Reilly
Wed Sep 21, 2011 5:58 PM
If I can't read you in the Plain Dealer...I'll be checking Facebook more frequently!
Thank you for continuiing to enlighten, inform, provoke and entertain. DADT? I'm grateful it's history. I concur with Jane -- DOMA must be next to go!
Comment: #3
Posted by: Katherine D Smith
Wed Sep 21, 2011 6:43 PM
Thanks for pointing us to your new gig. I had never been on this site before bit will be a regular visitor now. As to the article. I am a gay army vet and my biggest reaction was to think of the men who I served with who never got to see this day. To Guy and Steve.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Bob Bucklew
Wed Sep 21, 2011 7:04 PM
What of the politicians that fought the repeal of DADT to the bitter end? Will they be called to account (by the press) for their foolish, fear based denial of the truth that service to country and community can be a shared experience. That it can be appreciated by everyone.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Richard Jordan
Wed Sep 21, 2011 9:48 PM
Thank you!
Comment: #6
Posted by: RuthAnne Belton
Thu Sep 22, 2011 3:55 AM
Word.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Carla
Thu Sep 22, 2011 6:32 AM
Bob, thanks for the perspective. I will raise a glass tonight to Guy, Steve, and all the others in our country's past who served honorably but could not do so openly.
Comment: #8
Posted by: Carla
Thu Sep 22, 2011 6:35 AM
So glad to have found a place to read your work. I'll greatly miss your articles in the Plain Dealer but I know your voice isn't silenced . . . just retracked!
Comment: #9
Posted by: Ellen Greenberger
Thu Sep 22, 2011 1:06 PM
Wow - just wow. I love your writing - it was the only thing useful in the PD - now I won't have to bother reading that nonsense to get to your sense. Love your work!
Comment: #10
Posted by: Maria Ann
Fri Sep 23, 2011 5:14 AM
I am looking forward to your new book. I really enjoyed the other two. DADT was a compromise at the time but it lasted way too long. DOMA is something that should be gone by now as well. Not having you at PD has it benefits. I won't have my blood pressure increased by the group of professional commentators that delight in getting on at the instant your column arrived to start their rants. They were completely predictable and very uninformed.
Comment: #11
Posted by: JRGrissomCA
Fri Sep 23, 2011 2:34 PM
I am so happy to have found this post. You mean so much to your readers, Connie. I hope you can continue to express your opinions without someone looking over your shoulder. I have deleted the PD from my list of favorites and bookmarked this site. Keep speaking up for the rights of hard working, honest people everywhere. We need you.
Comment: #12
Posted by: Christine Wells
Sat Sep 24, 2011 8:30 AM
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