'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Hurts African-American Women the Most

Black women and other people of color have been disproportionately affected by the policy -- and as one woman's story illustrates, just the threat of discovery can take a terrible toll.

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Battles in the Courts and Congress

"To have a tool like 'Don't ask, don't tell' is ridiculous, and it's time for it to go," says Stacey Long, federal legislative director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "I'm glad we have the courts on our side," she says, citing a California judge's ruling in September that DADT is unconstitutional.

In another recent case, a U.S. district judge ruled in Tacoma, Wash., that the Air Force violated the constitutional rights of Maj. Margaret Witt, who was discharged for being a lesbian, and ordered that the highly decorated flight nurse be reinstated "as soon as practical," if she wanted.

Still, efforts to overturn DADT in the Senate have faltered. The measure to repeal it was blocked in September following a heated battle between Republicans and Democrats over legislative process, not over the details of DADT itself. But the bill is likely to be taken up again Dec. 1, when the Pentagon is scheduled to release findings of a study that shows the effects of ending policy.

Advocates are cautiously optimistic, having just endured the helter-skelter roller-coaster ride during the repeal effort. Army veteran Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of SLDN, said in an e-mail statement to The Root that the "unjust law disrespects the sacrifices of all veterans and weakens national defense by denying our armed forces the skilled men and women" they need during wartime.

His statement went on to say, "We urge the Senate to act on 'Don't ask, don't tell' before the end of this year during the lame-duck session and for the president, Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen to sign off on certification so that all qualified patriots can serve openly without regard to their sexual orientation."

A Personal Toll

Although Cooper-Harris, the former Army sergeant, was not discharged under DADT, she left out of fear of having her career destroyed. She still bears the scars, which became apparent during an interview with The Root.

She had enlisted while attending high school in Charleston, S.C., working her way up the ranks. She served 12 full years, joining during the first Gulf War and then serving in Iraq. "By the time I figured out I was gay, I had to keep things under wraps," she told The Root. "I ended up having to basically put on a horse-and-pony show to make it look like I was straight.

"Some of my so-called friends found out. I don't know if they saw me with someone off base. They came to me and said, 'We found this about you. If you want this to stay quiet, you have to do stuff for us.' I had a choice to keep them quiet or have them rat me out. Basically, I had to do sexual acts and behaviors for them. I don't want to get too deep into it."