On Veterans Day, we’d like to express our appreciation the veterans who have served our country. Thank you for the personal sacrifices you made – delaying your education or your career, being away from your family – to safeguard our freedom.   Thank you for placing yourselves between us and danger.  Thank you for braving the unspeakable horrors of war.  Thank you for your service.

We also would like to give special recognition to the gay and lesbian members of the military who have served our country. This service, until recently, came with an additional career-ending challenge:  hide your sexual orientation or be discharged from the military.

As recently as 1981, the Department of Defense issued a directive stating that “homosexuality is incompatible with military service” and that any service member who has “engaged in, has attempted to engage in, or has solicited another to engage in a homosexual act” would face mandatory discharge. In his first election campaign, President Bill Clinton promised to change that:  if elected, he would allow military service by all who otherwise qualify to serve – regardless of sexual orientation. He was unable to overcome opposition to that policy once in office, however.  He signed into law the policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Although often referred to as a compromise, the policy defined homosexuality as “an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.” The discharges continued, and more than 13,000 members of the armed services were discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

In his campaign for the Presidency, Barack Obama vowed to continue the fight to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. In 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate passed bills repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  President Obama signed the repeal into law.  The Supreme Court’s decision on DOMA also made full military benefits available to spouses in same-sex couples.

It’s hard to overstate the progress that has been made in the last 35 years. Gay and lesbian service members can now serve openly in the military.  They no longer have to fear that their true orientation will be discovered, and they will be routed out of the military because of it. They can take care of their spouses and families with the same benefits other service members enjoy.  And they show, each and every day, that they are dedicated to the service of our country.

Thank you for serving as a heroic example of who we are.