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“Don’t ask, don’t tell” has been replaced with “don’t worry.”

After 18 years of controversy and questionable results, the law banning gay troops from serving openly in the military was dumped in September. The change provided immediate relief for thousands of gay troops forced to keep their private lives secret to protect their jobs, and it opened the door for new recruits who previously had to choose between being out and serving their country.

More than 14,000 servicemembers were discharged under the law since 1993, but fewer than 10 of those came after summer 2010. That’s when Pentagon officials updated policies to make the “don’t ask, don’t tell” firings more difficult, and lawmakers began their final push to repeal the law.

That repeal was signed into law in December 2010, but military officials didn’t finalize the change until September to make sure that troops received training on the new personnel rules.

Despite continued protests from conservative groups, Pentagon leaders said servicemembers expressed few concerns over the change. When the repeal finally took place, the DOD did little to mark the end of the law, instead issuing just a few brief statements on equality and the patriotism of all troops.

For gay rights supporters, the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was a landmark victory.

For the first time in U.S. military history, federal law forbids troops from being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. Troops who lost their jobs under the old policy were allowed to re-enlist, and those with pending dismissal suits saw their legal headaches disappear.

OutServe, an advocacy group of several hundred previously closeted gay troops, held the first public military conference in October. Organizers said the goal was to provide an avenue for networking and professional development, opportunities that hadn’t been open to those troops.

Despite the changes, gay rights advocates said work still needs to be done for true equality in the military. Lobbyists are now pushing for same-sex partner benefits for gay troops, particularly for health care and housing stipends.

shanel@stripes.osd.milTwitter: @LeoShane


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