History was in the air on Wednesday. From the moment you arrived at the Department of Interior Building at 6:30AM in the morning, you could see the line of hundreds stretching down the block in the frigid, dark morning air. Seems after seventeen years the folks didn't mind waiting in the cold for 45 minutes. You could cut the anticipation and excitement with a knife. This day was our day and we were not disappointed.
White House Staffer Brian Bond couldn't have handled this day more perfectly. They moved the signing ceremony from the White House to the Department of Interior so more members of the LGBT community could witness this special moment. Embracing a policy of inclusion, they invited the leadership of GetEqual, the pioneers who initially opposed the policy in 1993 and current leaders from around the country. This generosity of spirit was just sublime and set the tone for the event. They made sure the day was for the those who had suffered under DADT and our veterans. Brian deserves high praise for his decisions that made this day perfect.
Bill Smith of Gill Action with a smile on his face said, "Never have so many LGBT leaders gathered under one roof and every single one of them happy!" After laughing until tears came into my eyes, I realized he was right in that everyone was smiling and embracing each other...often in tears. The crowd went literally crazy giving prolonged ovations especially to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Susan Collins, Admiral Mullen and Congressman Patrick Murphy. In the audience were our champions in the Congress such as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator Mark Udall and Senator Dick Durbin. (Photograph of Attorney General Holder, Dustin Lance Black and Chad Griffin)
The crowd was filled with people of courage. Tracy Thorne the fighter pilot who came out in 1993. Grethe Cammermeyer who led us in the Pledge of Allegiance, former Marine Justin Elize who was carried away from the White House fence and so many others who filled the room. As the National Anthem played, it was just music but then suddenly the entire crowd started loudly singing it and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Everywhere you turned you saw the heroes and heroines of this struggle to repeal. Watching people was like watching 17 years of history unfold in one room.
Then the moment had arrived .
President Obama rose to the occasion. Understanding what this meant not only to those in the room but every single person who loves justice in this nation, he spoke, as always, with elegance saying:
"So this morning, I am proud to sign a law that will bring an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It is a law -- this law I’m about to sign will strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals that our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend.
No longer will our country be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans who were forced to leave the military -– regardless of their skills, no matter their bravery or their zeal, no matter their years of exemplary performance -– because they happen to be gay. No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie, or look over their shoulder, in order to serve the country that they love.
As Admiral Mike Mullen has said, “Our people sacrifice a lot for their country, including their lives. None of them should have to sacrifice their integrity as well.”
The President ended his speech by saying:
For we are not a nation that says, “don’t ask, don’t tell.” We are a nation that says, “Out of many, we are one. We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot. We are a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal. Those are the ideals that generations have fought for. Those are the ideals that we uphold today. And now, it is my honor to sign this bill into law."
The President then sat at the table and signed the beginning of the end of DADT. When finished he leaned back and almost in disbelief looked at us and said,
"This is done."