Friday, December 12, 2008

No Insignificant Sacrifice

Like most Americans, I am continually amazed at the extraordinary sacrifices our men and women in uniform make in order to serve our country. Extended tours of duty . . . the frontlines of combat . . . the often grueling hours without enough pay. "Inspiring" seems like an insigificant measure of the commitment our troops in the armed forces constantly show.

Perhaps their greatest sacrifice, however, is their time spent away from family. And during the holidays, that can be an especially difficult separation . . . especially for lesbian and gay service members with a partner, spouse, loved one or child back home.

Of all its heinous consequences, the most personal side-effect of the unnecessary and un-American law we call "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" may just be the separation it imposes on couples.

I cannot imagine spend the holidays without saying "I love you" to the most important person in my life. But under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," that's exactly the reality some service members face.

"Servicemembers say that they have to take the most extraordinary precautions for the most ordinary activities," reporter Jennifer Vanasco writes at 365Gay.com. "They need to watch everything they say, using gender neutral pronouns or making up a significant other of the opposite gender. They need to hide who sent them care packages, who sent them a letter, who they write to themselves."

"If they’re deployed in a foreign country, their partners need to limit calls to the shared phone, lest others on the base (who usually answer that phone) begin to suspect something is up."

Consider, for example, the story of Lee Quillian and Jen Kopfstein:

Quillian tells Vanasco that, during one holiday when she was deployed onboard a ship in the Middle East, "All the other sailors were going to a special room to film video messages to their sweethearts," but Qullian could not. Because her sweetheart was Jen, another woman.

And "Elizabeth," another service member who spoke with Vanasco, says that, "“Even while I’m here stateside at lunch, people are talking about what presents they’re going to buy their wife or girlfriend – I’m part of the group but I can’t be part of the discussion."

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" also means "Don't Love." And that's an unacceptable commandment at any time of the year . . . but especially during the holidays.

“The holidays bring up memories, expectations,” Trey Malicoat, a therapist who has worked with servicemembers, told 365Gay.

“There are more parties, more activities, there’s a financial drain. For gay soldiers, there’s the added burden of not being able to talk about home, about where he or she would like to be, about the person who has the most significance in his or her life.”

That's not an insignificant sacrifice at all.

To read Vanasco's full report, click here. And to learn more about dismantling "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," visit this website for information and resources, too.

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