gay_flag_lede.jpgToday’s move to end the military’s 18-year-old ban on openly gay troops will help remove a tremendous burden from gay and lesbian members of the armed forces, a local activist said today.

Retired U.S. Navy Commander Zoe Dunning, a San Francisco resident and decorated veteran who came out as a lesbian in 1993 while serving, said President Obama’s signing today of the certification for repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was “the final hurdle” in the fight against the policy.

The certification from U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen states that the military is ready to repeal the policy and can maintain military readiness, unit cohesion, recruitment and retention goals. The repeal, which was signed into law in December, will take effect 60 days from today, on Sept. 20, 2011.

Dunning, a co-chair of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, was one of the first people prosecuted under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and one of the few to successfully fight discharge from the military under it, before her legal defense was banned by the Pentagon.

She said the policy, which prohibited gay and lesbian servicemembers from being open about their sexual orientation, had a tremendous impact on the lives of those forced to serve under it.

“Every day that you go into work, you wonder if that is your last day, if someone turned you in or you’re being investigated, and the stress of that burden takes a tremendous toll on you,” Dunning said.

Dunning said it was important to remember that gay and lesbian servicemembers would not truly be safe until “don’t ask, don’t tell” is formally repealed.

Today’s certification drew praise as well from local officials and groups.

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, said the policy had weakened national security and ran counter to American values.

“A person’s fitness for service should be determined by their patriotism, valor and ability to carry out the mission, not sexual orientation,” Speier said. “Many of our allies have already enacted policies of open service without any harm to battle readiness or unit cohesion.”

“When the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is complete, we will send a clear message to every American: anyone with the courage to wear our nation’s uniform will be judged not by whom they love, but by their skill, ability and love of country,” said U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco. “We will move toward a future founded on progress, defined by our ideals, shaped by the promise of equality for all.”

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, also praised the certification, and called the policy “discriminatory.”

“This decision will strengthen our military and ensure that all those who bravely serve our country are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve,” Boxer said.

The San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights called the certification “historic.”

“We are now living the very last moments of life under this shameful and stigmatizing policy that did nothing to advance the security or safety of this nation or any American,” Executive Director Kate Kendell said. “Many of our most able and dedicated servicemembers have suffered under an inexcusable policy of government-sanctioned discrimination.”

Sara Gaiser, Bay City News

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