Almost two decades after the military policy that bans homosexuals from openly serving in the armed forces went into effect, "don't ask, don't tell" become a thing of the past today.
The 18-year ban on openly gay troops was officially repealed at midnight. The change was set in motion in December, when President Obama signed the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act, which he said would enhance the quality of the military.
"As of today, patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love," Obama said in a statement this morning.
This afternoon in San Francisco, gay and lesbian military veterans will gather to celebrate the repeal along with Mayor Ed Lee and other current and former elected officials -- including state Sen. Mark Leno and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who are both openly gay.
The celebration and news conference are scheduled for 12:30 p.m. at the San Francisco War Memorial Building on Van Ness Avenue.
A party is scheduled from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the LGBT Community Center at 1800 Market St. in San Francisco.
Separately, another group will gather in San Francisco's Castro District tonight to call for full equality for LGBT service members.
The demonstration, which begins at Harvey Milk Plaza at 6:30 p.m., aims to highlight what organizers say is a need for a non-discrimination policy and transgender protections for service members.
"History has taught us that separate is not equal," GetEQUAL organizer Dennis Veite said in a statement. "While DADT is gone, we will fight on."
Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said that although there is more work to be done to ensure full equality, the end of the ban should be hailed.
"Today is not just the end of 'don't ask, don't tell,' it is the beginning of a new era in which government policies that discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity are rightly seen as shameful and outmoded," Kendell said in a statement.
Before the repeal could go into effect, Obama, the Secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had to certify that ending the policy would not hinder the troops.
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer released a statement this morning hailing the repeal.
"A barrier has been lifted, and our military and our nation will be stronger because of it," Boxer said.
One of the few openly gay service members who fought her discharge and won -- retired U.S. Navy Commander Zoe Dunning -- is expected to attend the events in San Francisco today commemorating the ban's end.
Dunning publicly came out in January 1993 and successfully fought her discharge under the then-newly enacted ban. She served until her retirement four years ago.
Bay City News