We’ve been following Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell since Senator Barack Obama was campaigning on its repeal. After all these years, watching the ceremony in which he kicked it to the curb, in person, was a special kind of early Christmas gift.
The event was not held at the White House, but in an auditorium at the Department of the Interior. (We are told by reliable sources that this is because the East Room is tiny, plus Christmas tours make it impossible to hold large events during the holidays.) Unless it has previously played host to a Black Party, we’re pretty sure Department of Interior’s hall has never been so full of homosexuals before.
The audience was a veritable who’s who of gay politics, media, and entertainment in America, often with little distinction between them. For a change, though, there was no disharmony between the direct activists and the lobbyists.
“Everyone’s happy today,” Dustin Lance Black told us. The screenwriter of Milk has been at odds with the Human Rights Campaign lately for moving into Harvey Milk’s Castro district camera store. But he says everything is better, and there’s a “resolution coming that even Harvey would be proud of.”
“Stay tuned,” he teased.
Watching Black meet Senator Al Franken, it was hard to tell whether this was a Hollywood event or a Washington event. (As it was, also, when we chatted with Kal Penn, who has returned to his job at the White House following a brief hiatus to play Kumar in Harold and Kumar 3.)
Franken, for his part, seemed shocked that Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina had come aboard, and joked that the Republicans were running away with this. “Now if Michele Bachmann had supported this…” he quipped.. But he was happy that Burr wanted to be on the right side of history.
Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign flew overnight from California, and will be on a plane back home at noon. He was “not surprised, but very happy” about the final hour victory.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand told us she was “extraordinarily happy” about the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. She also told us she “has the votes” on the James Zadroga-9/11 first responder bill, and predicted it will come up for a vote today. (Representative Nadler did not seem as convinced and pressed her about whether the votes were there or not.)
Kerry Eleveld, the outgoing White House reporter for the White House, was working the room with a victory lap of sorts. Right before going to the Media Matters outgrowth Equality Matters, she was releasing a one-on-one sit down with President Obama.
Pelosi, Harry Reid, Steny Hoyer, and Staff Sergeant Eric Alva took the stage, with Joe Lieberman standing a bit off to the side. Susan Collins came onstage late, a fitting metaphor that seemed to draw a bit of laughter.
The ceremony began in solemn silence, with Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff being introduced and leading the gathered in prayer. He said the legislation would make the union “a bit more perfect.”
Then Joe Biden got up, greeted like a rock star. We wondered if he’d call this a “big fucking GAY deal.” But he was remarkably restrained, and treated the speech like a campaign warm-up prelude for President Obama.
Obama received more love from the gay community than we’ve seen in awhile. “Chicago’s in the house!” and “So is San Diego!” greeted the Commander in Chief.
Obama took one of his signature historical narratives to explain the moment. Reaching back to the Battle of the Bulge, he talked about a straight solider who’d been saved by a closeted gay solider. Forty-one years after that date, the gay veteran came out to his friend — “and he didn’t much care.” The son of the straight soldier, who is now deceased, was on hand, which was fitting, because that was the central focus of the ceremony — that no one will really care what all this was about once it’s over.
Obama quoted a straight marine from the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell survey, who said they had a gay comrade “who’s big, he’s mean, and no one cares that he’s gay.” By the end of his speech, Obama was drowned out by a standing ovation, and he strutted towards the signing table with a confidence that has eluded him with gays in recent months.
After a ceremony with the absurd, requisite number of souvenir pens, Obama declared “This is done.”
It isn’t, of course. Though Congress is done with its role, for the repeal to be implemented, the President, Secretary Bob Gates, and Admiral Mike Mullen must all certify it. The onus, as Dan Choi told us, is squarely on the executive. But everyone seems on board, and given that Obama told gay and straight Americans that the nation wants and needs their military service, and encouraged those discharged to re-enlist, it appears that the policy is effectively dead.