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Today we mark a new era in the struggle for gay rights

.Jerome - DADT Repeal - Sep. 20, 2011

Today marks a historic day in the fight for civil rights with the enactment of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). For nearly two decades lesbian, gay and bisexual members of the military have had to risk their lives while keeping specific elements of their lives hidden from everyone they work with.

Jerome (left) joined the military so he could pay for medical school. He spent three years in the Air Force to pay back what the military gave him for school, and that whole time he continued to hide his sexual orientation from everyone he knew, especially his fellow service members and superior. “Being in the military kept me in the closet longer and kept me from staying in the military,” says Jerome, who after three years of service and completing his payback left military life.

“It was very focused on tradition and culture, and there was an unspoken pressure to conform. My own happiness was always lacking,” remembers Jerome, who was promoted to major during his tenure in the Air Force. “There was a lot riding on keeping your mouth shut.”

The policy that begins today allowing gay people to serve openly sets an important tone and alters reality for millions of gay Americans who want to serve but didn’t feel comfortable enlisting because of DADT. Jerome is currently dating someone who is doing the same thing that he did in order to pay for medical school. “When he does his service to pay back the cost of medical school, he’ll be able to be himself,” Jerome says.

Across the country, LGBT advocates and supporters of President Obama are celebrating today one more step forward in the struggle for equality. In addition to repealing DADT, the Obama Administration has passed federal hate crimes legislation that covers LGBT people and ushered in visitation and medical decision making rights for gay and lesbian patients and their partners.

“It is a landmark piece of legislation,” says Jerome of the DADT repeal. “It’s the right thing to do, and I’m glad he did it.”

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