In July, 2011 the President and DoD officials certified that the military was ready to end the policy known as Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell (DADT). As agreed with Congress, the certification started a 60 day “waiting period” to end the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. Day 60 was September 20th, 2011.
On Day 60 I became a military spouse. We all waited with great anticipation for Day 60, but my thoughts were on the days after repeal. I didn’t know what to expect on day 61.
My new life was filled with unknowns. I can only imagine that my angst might have been like what many of you felt the very first time you got a set of PCS orders and reported to a military post. Would I be welcome as a military spouse? Would it matter what my husband/wife’s rank was, or what kind of work they did? Would anyone help me understand about military life?
Looking back a year later, Day 61 was both exhilarating and frightening. It was exhilarating because we are so proud of our servicemembers. Finally, on September 20th they could lace up their boots, square their shoulders and their headgear, and walk out the front door of the home they shared with a same-sex partner. No longer would they fear that someone would “out” them to end their service.
It was also frightening because we, as gay military families, could also step out of the shadows without fear of “outing” our partners. But unlike a gay servicemember, we didn’t have a safety net or a single point of reference for that first step. In the back of our minds we were asking, just like you asked during that first PCS … Would I be welcome as a military spouse?
The answer to that question turned out to be a firm and resounding “Yes!”
Military Partners and Families Coalition (MPFC) hosted a “Beyond 61” reception at the Women’s Military Memorial in Washington DC to recognize gay military partners and families. It took great effort to stay hidden under DADT and we were good at it. We realized we would need to put effort behind connecting to each other as well as to connecting with the military community.
We reached out to military organizations and without hesitation they reached back. The National Military Family Association (NMFA) and Blue Star Families attended the reception and resolutely offered support. There was no indecision. Military families support military families; and the support didn’t stop there.
Even more organizations eagerly turned out in May 2012 at the OutServe “Family Matters” summit. The NMFA, Blue Star Families, T.A.P.S, Red Cross, Hiring Our Heroes, Give-an-Hour, and National Guard Association all shared a table with MPFC for a candid discussion about supporting military families who do not have access to federal support structures.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) limits certain federal benefits that similarly situated straight military couples receive. Although same-sex marriage is legal in six states and D.C., our married families are not eligible to access military support structures afforded to family members enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS).
We have learned in the past year that military service and sacrifice is a common denominator that everyone understands. Military organizations such as NMFA understand that our families have faced the same challenges as any family in the decade that has included two wartime theaters. We aren’t that different than other spouses: We want our servicemember to serve, train and deploy for this nation without worrying about us back home. A year after DADT repeal, we are comforted knowing we have a patchwork of support and major Military Family Organization recognize our service, but we remain painfully aware that we are excluded from the legal safety net provided to other military families.
Tracey Hepner is co-founder of the Military Partners and Families Coalition (MPFC) and currently serves as the Operations Director. She and her spouse BG Tammy Smith live in Arlington, Va.
Editor’s note: Sept. 20 marks the one year anniversary of the repeal of DADT. To read more about the experience of gay military families check out this story on Military.com.