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Jim Key served in the Marine Corps Reserve for 10 years until 1993. He was a respected Marine and was stationed at Camp Pendleton during Operation Desert Storm. But Key had to hide the fact he was gay in order to enlist. When the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy was instated, it came at the end of Key’s service. He still had to hide his sexual orientation from his fellow Marines, but after Saturday’s historic Senate vote, future Marines will not have the same issues.
The U.S. Senate voted 65-31 Saturday to repeal DADT, eliminating the military’s policy preventing gay and lesbian members of the armed foces from revealing their sexual orientation. The policy was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Wednesday.
“It was an emotional moment for me when the decision was made,” said Key, chief public affairs officer for the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. “I was closeted to my military colleagues for all ten years of my service.”
Key’s colleagues respected his work, but they also used a lot of discriminatory language toward gays and lesbians.
“They used a lot of false stereotypes about gays,” Key said. “The attitudes and perceptions toward gay people were based on ignorance. They didn’t know we were already in the military.”
Key was careful to keep his sexual orientation a secret, fearing for his safety because of the things he heard from the people who served with him. As a result, he separated himself from other Marines as much as he could.
“I had as little off-duty contact with fellow Marines as possible,” Key said. “Especially the ones who made homophobic comments because it made it easier to keep my sexual orientation a secret.”
Key also said his experience is a prime example of how DADT was actually detrimental to unit cohesion. He said DADT was more of a national security issue than it was a human rights issue.
“It prohibited qualified people from serving in the military based just on their sexuality,” Key said. “Any person willing to lay down their life for the country should get the opportunity.”
Gen. James Amos, the 35th Commandant of the Marine Corps, was one of the opponents to abolishing DADT. But he recently said he would lead the efforts to integrate openly gay Marines, much to Key’s approval.
“That’s the way it should be in the Marine Corps,” Key said. “Orders were given to him by his commander in chief and he is going to follow them.”
The decision to repeal DADT was met with jubilation by members of the West Hollywood City Council.
“It has been a long time coming,” Councilmember Abbe Land said. “It will be a great day for our country when men and women who heroically serve in the United States military no longer face discrimination for being truthful about who they are.”
Councilman Jeffrey Prang was also happy with the repeal of DADT.
“For 17 years, the policy has forced brave American troops to lie in order to serve their country,” Prang said. “This victory makes the 111th Congress the first in U.S. history to recognize that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans deserve the freedom and fairness our country promises.”
The excitement regarding the repeal also spread to the halls of Congress.
Congresswoman Karen Bass, (D-CA) said Saturday was a “day of hope and equality.”
“By doing away with DADT, inequality will have no place in one of our nation’s most revered institutions,” Bass added.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa voiced his support of the historic vote that promises to cut down on discrimination in the military.
“For too long, many of the brave men and women who serve our country have had to do so in silence,” Villaraigosa said. “With this vote, all men and women in uniform will enjoy the freedom to openly be who they are as they selflessly fight to preserve the freedom of others abroad.”
Personnel at the Armed Forces Career Center at 7080 Hollywood Blvd. would not comment on the repeal of DADT.
Abolishing DADT will not be a quick process. President Obama, the Secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff must all certify that the Department of Defense is ready to make the change in policy. This could take two months.
“Until 60 days after certification, the law commonly referred to as ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ remains in effect and the Department of Defense will continue to apply the law as it is obligated to,” said Maj. Monica Bland, spokesperson for the Department of Defense.
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