‘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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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.”

That’s when the interview ended. But in her letter to President Obama, she explained that she was eventually diagnosed with an STD that could lead to cervical cancer later in life. “I, frankly, am still ashamed of what I had to do to stay in the Army,” she wrote. “I wasn’t discharged under DADT, but left because of it. I continue to attend counseling sessions provided by the Department of Veteran Affairs for what I went through. The memories still come back to haunt me 16 years later.

“I don’t want to see other service members go through what I went through,” she went on. “And unfortunately, this will continue to happen as long as DADT is law.”

Lynette Holloway is a Chicago-based writer. She is a former New York Times reporter and associate editor for Ebony magazine.

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