Melissa Harris-Perry, 5/24/14, 12:40 PM ET

Why LGBT service members should be celebrated

Melissa Harris-Perry addresses her open letter this week to the President of the Center for Military Readiness Elaine Donnelly, who has fought to keep LGBT Americans out of the military.

A letter to an activist fighting to keep the military LGBT-free

Updated

Elaine Donnelly (R), President of the Center for Military Readiness, testifies before a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing on the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" law for gays in the U.S. Armed Forces in Washington, D.C., July 23, 2008.
Elaine Donnelly (R), President of the Center for Military Readiness, testifies before a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing, in Washington, D.C., July 23, 2008.
Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh/EPA
On Monday, we celebrate Memorial Day. Barbecues, long weekends, and time with family. But the purpose of this holiday is to remember the women and men have given everything, even their lives, in service to our country.

This year, as we reflect on their sacrifices, we might find ourselves particularly angry – because of reports that began to surface last week that veterans’ hospitals in Arizona, Texas, and Colorado manipulated waiting lists in order to hide long delays faced by veterans, and that those delays may have resulted in the deaths of as many as 40 vets.

Those who have served deserve better. To serve is to answer a calling. For far too long, gender identity and sexual orientation have kept some of our bravest citizens from being able to answer that call. Even as our nation is finally righting that wrong, there is one person who has never stopped fighting to keep LGBT Americans out of the military.

And that’s why my letter this week is to the president of the Center for Military Readiness, Elaine Donnelly.

Dear Elaine,

It’s me, Melissa.

Elaine, you serve as the head of the Center for Military Readiness, a public policy organization whose goal is to promote “high standards and sound priorities for our military men and women.” Now, high standards are extremely important. But according to a recent and comprehensive report by ThinkProgress, your standards look more like exclusion. Let’s go back to 1993, when President Clinton said this:

“I have ordered Secretary Asman to issue a directive consisting of these essential elements. One, servicemen and women will be judged based on their conduct, not their sexual orientation.”

Yes, President Clinton used “don’t ask, don’t tell” to end the ban on gay men and women in the military – but in exchange for their uniforms, they were forced to stay in the closet. But even the closet was not segregated enough for you. Back then, you said,

“We don’t feel that the soldiers who defend our country should be subjected to this kind of social experimentation. It’s not fair to them. It’s not good for our national defense.”

Not only did you label brave, gay soldiers as “social experiments” – you also suggested they would bankrupt rather than defend our country. You claimed:

“If we apply that to those who are at high risk of AIDS - we already know that there are 10 thousand non-deployable soldiers and their cost of care is about $200,000 each.”

So clearly, you were deep in some 1990s nonsense, but many years later, you still weren’t over it! In 2008, at the first hearing on the policy – 15 years after it was enacted – you railed on about transgenders in the military, lesbians taking pictures of people in the shower, and gays spreading HIV positivity.

In 2010, “don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed, clearing the way for openly gay and lesbian Americans to serve – and contrary to your dire predictions, there were no meaningful negative effects on military readiness. So you found a new target: trying to ensure the military did not recognize same-sex marriages. Luckily the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA last year stymied that effort.

But you just would not quit – and found one more way to try to bar patriots from serving, by railing against the one group not protected by the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell”: transgender service members. As expected, you had some divisive comments to say, saying transgender people would flock to the military to have their gender reassignment surgery paid for by the government and that their presence might lead to more sexual assaults.

More than 20 years after you began your small-minded campaign, it might be time for you to have a seat.

Transgender Americans serve at double the rate of the general population and their service is part of what we, the American people, will celebrate on Monday. Because the American people overwhelmingly support equal treatment for LGBT Americans in the workplace.

And so do I, especially when their workplace is the battlefield.

Sincerely,
Melissa.

Gay Rights

A letter to an activist fighting to keep the military LGBT-free

Updated