Frontlines: The Latest from OutServe-SLDN

Stories from the Frontlines: Captain Joan Darrah, USN (Ret.)

“Stories from the Frontlines: Letters to President Barack Obama” is a new media campaign launched to underscore the urgent need for congressional action and presidential leadership at this critical point in the fight to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). Every weekday morning as we approach the markup of the Defense Authorization bill in the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, SLDN and a coalition of voices supporting repeal, will share an open letter to the President from a person impacted by this discriminatory law.  We are urging the President to include repeal in the Administration’s defense budget recommendations, but also to voice his support as we work to muster the 15 critical votes needed on the Senate Armed Services Committee to include repeal.  The Defense Authorization bill represents the best legislative vehicle to bring repeal to the president’s desk.  It also was the same vehicle used to pass DADT in 1993.  By working together, we can help build momentum to get the votes!  We ask that you forward and post these personal stories.

April 27, 2010Joan Darrah

President Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

My name is Joan Darrah and I served in silence under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) for almost two decades.  I share my personal story with you as we’re at a critical point in the fight to repeal this discriminatory law.

We urgently need your voice and leadership as we lobby the Armed Services Committees and the full House and Senate to end DADT this year.

I’m sure, as I do, you remember exactly where you were on September 11, 2001.

At 8:30 a.m. that day, I went to a meeting in the Pentagon. At 9:30 a.m., I left that meeting. At 9:37 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon and destroyed the exact space I had left less than eight minutes earlier, killing seven of my colleagues.

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was a lesbian Navy captain who, at that time, had more than 28 years of dedicated military service. My partner, Lynne Kennedy, an openly gay reference librarian at the Library of Congress, and I had been together for more than 11 years. Each day, I went to work wondering if that would be the day I would be fired because someone had figured out I was gay.

In spite of that stress, somehow Lynne and I had learned to deal with "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"; we had made the requisite sacrifices. I had pretended to be straight and had played the games most gays in the military are all too familiar with.

But after Sept. 11 our perspective changed dramatically. In the days and weeks that followed, I went to at least seven funerals and memorial services for shipmates who had been killed in the Pentagon attack. As the numbness began to wear off, it hit me how incredibly alone Lynne would have been had I been killed.

The military is known for how it pulls together and helps people; we talk of the "military family" which is a way of saying we always look after each other, especially in times of need. But none of that support would have been available for Lynne, because under "don't ask, don't tell," she couldn't exist.

In fact, had I been killed, Lynne would have been one of the last people to know, because nowhere in my paperwork or emergency contact information had I dared to list Lynne's name. This realization caused us both to stop and reassess exactly what was most important in our lives. During that process we realized that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was causing us to make a much bigger sacrifice than either of us had ever admitted.

Nine months later, in June 2002, I retired after 29 years in the U.S. Navy, an organization I will always love and respect.

Today, nine years after that fateful day at the Pentagon, I am now committed to doing everything I possibly can to get rid of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" so our military can finally be open to all qualified and motivated individuals who want to serve their country. This is the right step for our country, for our military, and for all gay men and lesbians.

As a veteran, and as a witness to the 14,000 men and women who have been discharged, I thank you for your bold words in your State of The Union address: “This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.  It's the right thing to do.”

I have great love and respect for our country, and I know that we will be a stronger and better country when we repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

With great respect,

Capt. Joan Darrah
United States Navy (Ret.) 

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Dino in Washington, DC on May 02, 2010 at 09.08 pm

Thank you Joan.  I remember your testimony before the House Armed Services Committee for the repeal of DADT back in July 2008, and you spoke so eloquently. If only more people had your courage, conviction and integrity.

VTcasey in Vermont on April 27, 2010 at 11.25 pm

Thank you, Captain Darrah, for your service.  Now the rest of us need to discomfit our President and legislators until they get rid of this degrading law.

People who think repeal is inevitable are wrong - it’s going to take pressure, to the right people, right now. 

Those of us lucky enough to have supportive senators and reps need to forward these links to friends in other states, if this bill is going to make it.

Bill on April 27, 2010 at 10.22 pm

This story is great because it is so simple.  DADT is a worthless, odious policy that is irrelevant to excellent military service.  Who among the “slow walkers” in our Executive Branch and Congress would dare say that Capt. Darrah serving under an “open service” policy could not have done her job as well or better than she did for 29 years?  And how do the remaining bigots who resist an end to DADT have the gall to sustain a policy under which a service person could die in the service of our country but have that fact withheld from those they love most?

AMD in London, UK on April 27, 2010 at 09.25 am

I hope for your sake and the sake of many others that this law is repealled. Living in the UK where anyone in the miliatry can be open about their sexuality I still can’t believe that a country that says it offers freedom like no other democracy has the audacity to deprive its citizens of their civil rights.
I wish you the best of luck and hope that your government and US citizens wake up to this terrible injustice.