Reflections on the Veterans Lobby Day

Last week, veterans from around the country gathered here in D.C. to lobby for repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. One of my friends, John Affuso, came down from Boston to participate. I talked to him when he got back home. As he started to describe how powerful the gathering was, I asked him to write it down to share with AMERICAblog’s readers. He graciously agreed. Tonight, John will be speaking on a panel about DADT in Boston’s Faneuil Hall with Eric Alva. Here are his reflections:

Last week, I joined over 400 gay and lesbian veterans in our nation’s capitol, to lobby Congress for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

The meetings with members of the White House staff and the Pentagon Comprehensive Review Working Group presented us with an opportunity to personally engage with some of the policy and decision makers involved in this repeal effort. Similarly, our roughly 275 meetings with members of Congress and their staffs allowed us to share our stories of the harmful and discriminatory effects of DADT on our lives and our military careers. The meetings and office visits were an important component of what will hopefully result in the repeal this year of this outdated and misguided policy.

More significant than the meetings and office visits, however, was the powerful, personal effect of our simple act of gathering together. Our group traveled to DC from almost every state, and included at least one soldier on leave from Iraq. Ranging in age from a 19 year old reservist to a WWII vet, we represented every branch, rank, race, time of service and gender. Some of us retired after serving full military careers, others as a result of injuries received in combat. Some of us left military service before we were found out, others were discharged under DADT. Some of us are still in the military, a few serving openly, many others not.

As we introduced ourselves to each other, sharing name, rank, branch, years of service and other personal details, a palpable feeling of kinship, camaraderie and pride quickly developed. Many of us found it difficult to not get emotional (even as we tried hard to not do so) as we shared our experiences.

All that we ever wanted was to serve our country, without fear of being discharged simply because of who we are or who we love. It’s that simple. While our individual stories may differ, we share a common bond of proud, patriotic military service to our country, as well as a deep, personal understanding of the damaging effects of this misguided policy.

We veterans are a powerful voice in this debate; a voice that will not be silenced. We won’t go away until repeal is a reality. We speak out for those still in uniform, who continue to serve under DADT, voiceless and in constant fear that discovery of one’s sexual orientation will end a career.

The days of DADT are numbered. This policy will be repealed, hopefully this year, and become a shameful relic in the dustbin of history. Post-repeal, some of us who are still age eligible will re-enlist. Sadly, however, for thousands of patriotic Americans repeal will come too late to salvage or resume a military career.

We gathered in DC last week, over 400 strong, and quickly formed a new, powerful fighting force. I was honored and humbled to be in the company of hundreds of my fellow veterans. Thank you to Servicemembers United, HRC, SLDN and the dozens of advocacy organizations that made last week possible. We have been forever changed by this experience. We won’t leave our brothers and sisters in uniform behind and we won’t rest until we will win this battle – you can count on it.

More about the military background of the author:

John Affuso enlisted in the Army in 1986. After receiving his commission through the Army ROTC program at Rutgers University, he became a Signal Platoon Leader in the 50th Armored Division of the New Jersey Army National Guard. John is an Honor Graduate of the US Army Signal Center at Fort Gordon. After choosing to not re-enlist, in large part due to DADT, he was honorably discharged from the US Army Reserve in the mid 1990’s, having attained the rank of first lieutenant.

John is also a great guy and a committed activist. He’s done a lot of work to fight for and protect marriage in Massachusetts, too.

When he says “you can count on it,” I believe him.

On October 27, 2010, Joe was one of five bloggers who interviewed President Obama. Joe is a DC-based political consultant with over twenty-five years of experience at both the state and federal level. Joe has managed political operations and legislative efforts for both candidates and issues-based organizations. For seven years, he was the Director of State Legislation at Handgun Control, Inc. He served as that organization's first Political Director during the 2000 cycle. Joe is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law. In addition, he has a Masters in Public Administration from Lehigh University and received his B.A. from the University of New Hampshire. Joe also has a fun dog, Petey, a worthy successor to Boomer, who got Joe through eight years of Bush and Cheney. Joe likes to think he is a world class athlete having finished the 2005 Chicago Marathon in the time of 4:10. He has completed six other marathons as well -- and is still determined to break the four hour mark.

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