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Stories from the Frontlines: Former Army Sgt. Tracey L. Cooper-Harris

“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.

##Tracey Harris

May 10, 2010

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

Dear Mr. President,

My name is Tracey Cooper-Harris. I served in the Army for 12 years, reaching the rank of Sergeant. As a soldier and a non-commissioned officer (NCO), I performed my duties with honor and distinction. I was lauded by my peers and superiors for going above and beyond the status quo to complete the mission.

And, I am gay.

I lived in constant fear serving under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I was always looking over my shoulder, censoring what I said and keeping as much physical distance as possible between my military life and my personal life.

Even with this vigilance, I was found out by some male “friends” at my first duty assignment. I was just 19 years old. The deal was simple: Perform sexual favors and my secret was safe.

I had a choice: report these men for “sexual harassment/cohesion” and end my military career or submit to their demands.

Despite the military’s “zero tolerance” policy on sexual harassment, it doesn’t apply to those forced in the closet under DADT. I was sexually blackmailed and just a teenager.

At that time, as well as other times during my military service, I had seen friends discharged under DADT who were in similar situations. My friends were discharged, while their perpetrators were given a slap on the wrist.

The signal from command was clear: being gay was a far more serious offense in the military than sexually harassing a fellow service member. I ultimately chose what I believed was the best decision for me at the time. I let these men have their way with me in exchange for their silence.

I am not proud of what I did, but I loved my job too much to let it destroy my career before it had even started.

My decision didn’t come without consequences. I was eventually diagnosed with an STD which could potentially lead to cervical cancer later in life.

I, frankly, am still ashamed of what I had to do to stay in the Army. I wasn’t discharged under DADT, but left because of it. I continue to attend counseling sessions provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs for what I went through. The memories still come back to haunt me some 16 years later.

I don't want to see other service members go through what I went through. And unfortunately, this will continue to happen as long as DADT is law.

As long as a recruit or military member meets or exceeds the criteria for military service, let them serve. A bullet doesn’t discriminate because of a person’s race, gender identity, sex, religion, or sexual orientation, so why does the U.S. military continue to do so?

The time to repeal DADT is long overdue. Please, Mr. President, do the right thing.

Respectfully yours,
Former Sgt. Tracey L. Cooper-Harris
United States Army


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Olivia on June 08, 2010 at 08.03 pm

This is the state of military “comradeship” and “cohesion” DADT is supposedly protecting. Male soldiers blackmailing their female peers for sex and giving them STDs. Gosh, what a shame it would be to see it go, huh?

William West in San Diego, CA 92105  on May 18, 2010 at 09.58 am

It is a shame that someone dedicated to serve, and protect us (U.S.citizens) has to go through this or the treatment most receive for serving. It is because of “our” politicians we now live in fear. They did more in the last 20 years to destroy OUR country that it took to build it through the lives and blood shed to do so. “We The People” no longer exist, We have become a nation of “I got mine, you get yours”. When in fact it is those same ones that need to be held accountable. So many lives waisted it seams behind “These Truths” they cover up so well.

Courtney C. on May 11, 2010 at 10.25 am

I find it disgusting that Tracey’s perpetrators go scott free and she is punished for simply being who she is.

Bonnie Half-Elven in western PA  on May 10, 2010 at 08.48 am

It disgusts me that anyone should have to endure this order to keep their job, much less in our nation’s military, which claims to hold such high standards. It took a lot of guts for Ms. Cooper-Harris to speak up, but how many others have lived with this and served in silence? Read this letter and weep. Our nation should be ashamed and angry.

Anthony Loverde in San Francisco on May 10, 2010 at 07.17 am

Sgt Cooper-Harris should of never experienced this treatment from her co-workers under the “zero tolerance” policy. 

Unfortunately our military leaders have not stepped up to ensure that all military members would be safe after reporting such treatment.  DADT must end now, and leaders must start leading. 

Mr. President—you can help our military leaders enforce a zero tolerance policy of sexual harassment that currently is crippled by Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell…how many careers and lives need to damaged before this becomes a real priority????

Sgt Cooper-Harris- THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE, and I hope the best for you.  It is a shame you were ever put in this kind of situation.  Your bravery in sharing this story will help others…thank you!