Lt. Col. Steve Loomis on DADT’s repeal
Saturday morning, retired Lt. Col. Steve Loomis woke up, put on his sweatsuit and sat down in front of the TV. He tuned into C-SPAN, though he's not a regular viewer of the channel. "It's got to be one of the most boring things I've ever seen," Loomis says. He was waiting for the U.S. Senate to vote on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
"The vote happened, and I damn near cried,” he says.
His phone started ringing. Friends, and fellow vets from across the country began calling to celebrate.
Loomis was discharged from the military five days before he was eligible for retirement after after 30 years in the service and the Reserve. A 1997 arson investigation at his home dug up evidence that Loomis is gay. (More of that story here).
But on Saturday, Dec. 18, a law that caused the end of 14,000 service members’ careers was finally repealed. That afternoon, the state's chapter of the American Veterans for Equal Rights held it's annual Christmas party. It's usually a small affair, 10 or 15 local gay vets. This year, Loomis' home was populated with scores of thrilled activists—and media outlets looking for a quote or two.
There was a time when the LGBT community was not that visible, he says. Loomis has watched an awareness make its way into mainstream society. "People began to understand that this wasn't a bunch of flighty ogres out of some San Francisco pride parade that conservatives imagine. This was real people. This was your brother, your mother, your father, your sister, your nephew, your friends, your coworker." More than a decade ago, people began telling their stories, and LGBT veterans began making themselves known. It's been a long fight, says Loomis. But in 2010, "people see they can serve, they do serve and finally, that they will serve."
It’s a major step toward full equality, he says. "When you as an individual or the group that you belong to serves and defends your country, then you should and will eventually have all the rights of citizenship. That will apply to gays in the military also."
He'd like to warn—as he has every time a DADT repeal advanced—that it's not yet time for military members to come out. "Until the policy is announced and some sort of schedule for the implementation of the policy is announced, no one should consider coming out publicly." Once it has been made part of regulations, Loomis says it'll become a matter of enforcing those standards. "It's the responsibility of the chain of command. We may have to keep a close eye on leadership who don't fully implement the policy."
The Defense of Marriage Act is still on the books, Loomis points out, and this will likely prevent the military from offering benefits and rights to same-sex spouses. "It will be interesting to see how those issues focus each other."
Though the repeal finally happened, Loomis still hasn't figured out what it means to him. "OK, it's not as important to me as it might be to someone currently serving. But once you've served, you become brothers and sisters in arms. And you can't forget them. Those young men and women that are in Iraq and Afghanistan deserve every right to serve—as well as gays that served clear back in Valley Forge.”