There has been a fair bit of criticism of the USA following the release of the Wikileaks documents. Most of it deserved, and some of it I have even been part of. As I have said before on this blog, my view on the USA has changed a bit over the years. Before I lived there as a diplomat I had a pretty jaundiced view of the USA as a country. Living there made me realise that like all places it has some amazing people, places and ways of doing things and some bizarre and awful ones too. The Bush era certainly presented lots of the latter category. I still strongly oppose the war-mongering of that era and many of the actions taken in the name of the USA.
But there are times when the USA gets it right and when individuals stand up for ideals in important ways. One of those is the recent removal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy on gays in the military. This was a messy compromise from another era, which has now been rectifiied. I am certainly no supporter of all the actions of the US military, but this piece of discrimination had no place in the modern world.
Barack Obama’s speech at the signing of the legislation to remove the policy is one of his great speeches in my view.
Finally, I want to speak directly to the gay men and women currently serving in our military. For a long time your service has demanded a particular kind of sacrifice. You’ve been asked to carry the added burden of secrecy and isolation. And all the while, you’ve put your lives on the line for the freedoms and privileges of citizenship that are not fully granted to you.
You’re not the first to have carried this burden, for while today marks the end of a particular struggle that has lasted almost two decades, this is a moment more than two centuries in the making.
There will never be a full accounting of the heroism demonstrated by gay Americans in service to this country; their service has been obscured in history. It’s been lost to prejudices that have waned in our own lifetimes. But at every turn, every crossroads in our past, we know gay Americans fought just as hard, gave just as much to protect this nation and the ideals for which it stands.
The full speech is well worth a watch.