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Pride President Jesse Lopez on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Jesse Lopez
Jesse Lopez

This morning, President Obama signed the repeal measure into law. Watch White House video of the signing ceremony here.

I caught up with Jesse Lopez, who took over as president of Albuquerque Pride this year, via e-mail.

What were you doing when you heard the news? Were you surprised?

I was on the treadmill at Sports and Wellness when a reporter called and asked if we could do an interview. Reluctant, I said "why?" She said, "Turn it to CNN and call me back." I did, and wow, in that moment, I, and so many other Americans, witnessed history.

In all reality the U.S. Congress is ending a lame duck session. President Obama had just compromised some of his beliefs with the Republican Party when it came to the Bush tax cuts, so yes I was surprised. So this so-called lame duck session gave the GLBT community a step forward and an amazing Christmas gift. It was a proud moment for us all!

What's the first thing you did?

Cried. After working so hard, with so many, for so many years, standing up to bigotry and hate, after enduring years of being called a sinner, immoral or a faggot, finally a VICTORY. I immediately called up members of the Pride Board to share the news, I then called up the local Veterans for Equal Rights Chapter to salute and send a huge congratulations. Then the work began.

It was important to get the message out that Don't Ask Don't Tell has affected many New Mexicans. So we assembled the team, and by 3 p.m. scheduled a press conference and a victory party.

How did Pride interact with this issue in 2010?

Albuquerque Pride has U.S. veterans on the board of directors, and has worked with the American Veterans for Equal Rights chapter on making sure they have a strong presence at Pride events. It is always a goal to educate, and create an atmosphere where everyone is welcomed and accepted. Because of that, AVER led the 2010 Pride Parade to bring more attention and awareness to the DADT policy. Many of the board members personally lobbied the congressional delegation, made phone calls and wrote letters to both parties.

What does the repeal mean culturally?

There are moments that define a generation. Stonewall defined the start of the GLBT movement in America, it sparked the first Pride events and parades across the country. In the late '70s early '80s the HIV/Aids epidemic hit, and hit the gay community the hardest. At the time the government would not come out and call it a sexually transmitted disease. Hundreds if not thousands of our community were dying and at an alarming rate. The community rallied together, cried together, and fought together. In 1993, President Bill Clinton passed the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, which at the time was looked at as being progressive.

Now here we are a new generation. Saturday, Dec. 18—this day will be remembered in history as the day the GLBT community has the right to serve and defend the United States of America with honor and, most off all, dignity. This generation now has something they can say they lived through and fought for, and lived to tell the story.

What does it mean to you personally?

I grew up in a very patriotic, conservative family, with a love for my country being ingrained in me since childhood. There was a point in my life where I too wanted to enlist and have the opportunity to fight and defend my rights as an American. At the time I had to ask myself, Do we really have equality? Are we truly one nation under God if I as an American would deny who I am, and live in fear that I could be discharged?

To ask someone to deny who and what they are is flat out wrong. Some would argue "well then everything goes, and what’s next on the moral level?" Giving the GLBT community the right to defend and serve our country is not immoral, nor is it an attack on religion. This is an issue of equality, and I see this as move forward in the right direction. I love my country, and in the near future I will have the opportunity to enlist and serve proudly. God has blessed this great country, and I look at this for me personally as a huge blessing!

What are your concerns about the repeal?

I fear for those that are currently serving in the military that have yet to come out and what repercussions directly and or indirectly may come of it. Will there be an influx of gay bashing at first? And will it be tolerated, simply hiding it "under the rug"?

Do you think LGBT issues will be harder to push for with a more Republican Congress next year?

In a utopian society we would not see people as straight or gay, rather, simply as people. This should be a nonpartisan issue; however, we do not live in a utopia. We live in a world where some chose to classify others as immoral, using their own religious beliefs to make a statement or to vote on policies that completely demoralize, reject and discriminate against a group of people. Will things change? Of course, but will the GLBT community rise to the occasion to make their voices heard? Well there is no better time than now. We must keep the momentum moving. And together, united, we WILL!