LGBT advocates commemorated Veterans Day with a special event Friday aimed toward celebrating the fact that gay and lesbian soldiers can openly serve in the military for the first time. NY1’s Zack Fink filed the following report.
It wasn't until just this year that the Clinton-era "don't ask, don't tell" policy was repealed. Now, for the first time in history, openly gay and lesbian soldiers are serving in the military.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community center celebrated the milestone on the historic Veterans Day Friday.
"This is the place where our community comes to celebrate our victories, and the end of ‘don't ask, don't tell’ is a huge victory for the gay, lesbian, bisexual community," said Glennda Testone, executive director of the LGBT Community Center.
Roughly 200 people RSVPed for the reception. It was an opportunity for veterans who could not serve openly to share their stories and meet other veterans with similar experiences.
"I served for 10 years from 1968 to ’78, first in the U.S. Navy and later in the United States Army Reserve," said Denny Meyer of the American Veterans for Equal Rights.
Meyer said he was never able to tell anyone he was gay during his decade of service.
"In those days, we served in silence. That's the term. And with all the homophobic banter and stuff like that, you couldn't say a word, because in those days you could be killed and dishonorably discharged. Now it's all different," said Meyer.
Other veterans faced similar challenges.
"It was very hectic because I myself had to keep quiet. I had my own personal demons. I’m also a recovering alcoholic, and that was also probably part of the reason why I had to keep my mouth shut. Because during my recovery, I almost let it slip, and I could have been thrown out of the military right then and there," said veteran Antonio Breton.
Even with the repeal of “don't ask, don't tell,” veterans say the military still has a long way to go before things are truly equal. For example, transgendered soldiers still face discrimination, and spouses and partners are not afforded the same rights as those of straight soldiers.