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Has Don't Ask Don't Tell Repeal Changed Military?


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. You might have heard us mention our Twitter Education Forum that we'll be hosting in Miami next month. We'll tell you more about that a little later.

But education is very much on our minds, so today, we're also going to talk more about some troubling new numbers showing that the high school graduation rates for black and Latino boys is lagging. We want to find out more about why. We'll talk about that a little later.

But, now, we turn to a major milestone in military policy and culture. For most of the past two decades, gays and lesbians were allowed to serve in the U.S. military, but only if their sexual orientation was never disclosed. The policy was called "don't ask, don't tell." But after years of advocacy around the issue, that policy was repealed one year ago today.

We thought this would be a good time to check in with one service member who was personally affected by the policy and has also been reporting on it. Jonathan Mills is a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, an eight-year veteran. He's also the cofounder and publisher of OutServe magazine. That's a publication for and about gay and lesbian service members. And he's with us now.

Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

SERGEANT JONATHAN MILLS: Thank you very much for having me.

MARTIN: And let me start by saying thank you for your service.

MILLS: Thank you.

MARTIN: Now, a couple of days after the ban was repealed, you spoke with my colleague, Neal Conan, of NPR's TALK OF THE NATION. And Neal Conan asked you what had changed for you, and I just want to play a little bit of your answer.


MILLS: To be honest, absolutely nothing, nothing on the outward, nothing, you know, that you can tell. I'm just going about my job, day-to-day.

MARTIN: What about now?

MILLS: You know what? When I said that, there was not a big change from the day-to-day at that time, because, you know, you build up this big event that's going to happen in your life. You build it up to be this great thing, and then it comes around and happens. And I woke up expecting things to be totally different, and it wasn't.

But you know what? It's been a year, and in that year, so much has changed. When I think back over the past year, I think about all of the images that came out with people coming back from deployments. There were several images that made the news over the past year.

We had gay and lesbian service members who were coming home off of deployments. There were some photographed running into the arms of their loved ones. You know, this is something that I had always resented coming back from my own deployments, and even standing in the crowd, waiting on my unit to come back from deployments, you'd see these families rushing to meet their heroes. And I would stand there and think: You know, I'm not able to do this. I'm not able to run into the arms of my boyfriend, or my friends aren't able to bring flowers for their partners.

But not anymore. Now, we no longer have to hide our love, our commitment. Now we can show the world who has been holding down the fort at home and who we fight for.

MARTIN: You know, you also mentioned, in fact, and covered in OutServe - you talked about the fact that the first gay couple got married on a military base. That was in New Jersey this summer. You covered that story. There was a gay pride event at the Pentagon, or a pride event at the Pentagon. But what about you, personally? Have you - is there something on a personal level? Did you do - was there some milestone for you? March in a parade or something that...

MILLS: You know...

MARTIN: ...that you think back on over the course of the year?

MILLS: There have been a lot of things, and being a part of the magazine, reporting on all of these things that have been happening over the past year has kind of made me feel like, you know, a part of everything that's going on.

But one of the things that really affected me personally was, back during the pride season this summer, we were able to march - for the first time - openly, and we certainly did. We had several OutServe chapters all around the world sending us pictures of them marching at the front of the parades. You'd see a troop of members walking past with a big Air Force banner, then behind them, there'd be a Navy banner, then Marine and Coast Guard, Army.

And I got to march in the D.C. Pride parade. And let me tell you, as we were marching along, the crowd went wild just getting to see their gay military heroes being able to march and being to do that openly, show pride, pride in what we've accomplished, in our service and in our country. And that was when it really hit home to me.

MARTIN: Yeah. I can see it. I can see it on your face. I mean, I feel like the emotion is still there.

We're talking about the first anniversary of the end of "don't ask, don't tell." That's the policy that formerly banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. Our guest is Sergeant Jonathan Mills. He's serving in the U.S. Air Force. He's an eight-year veteran. He's also the publisher of OutServe magazine.

The - you know, one of the main arguments against the repeal was that having gay and lesbian service members serving openly would disrupt unit cohesion, that the military culture wasn't ready for it. A year later, have you heard of any reactions like that of situations where units just were not able to cope?

MILLS: No. I have not. And it's significant to point out that, you know, part of my job with OutServe magazine is to take all of these stories that come in and monitor the progress of the implementation of repeal. And, over the past year, going through all of the stories that come in, we have not see an issue where having an openly gay service member has had a negative impact on unit cohesiveness, or unit cohesion.

And there have been isolated incidents of negative things happening from a service member coming out, but they've been very few and far between, and it has only affected, you know, that service member or the very close people around them. And one of the things...

MARTIN: Well, like, for example, you were saying that there was one - a promotion ceremony where one service member's same-sex partner was not allowed...

MILLS: Right, right.

MARTIN: participate, but the senior officer said, well, you're not married.

MILLS: Exactly.

MARTIN: And so this is for married people, and you're not married. I'm curious, though, whether they were in a state where same-sex marriage is legal. I was curious about that. Do you remember?

MILLS: I'm not sure, but one of the things to point out in that situation and all of the other ones like those is that's typically the main issue that we find with a negative incident around an openly gay service member coming out, and that is they're not able to bring their families to certain functions and are not able to participate in certain programs. And the excuse always given to that service member is, well, you know, your family is not officially recognized. And - like your straight counterpart would be. And so, for that reason, we can't allow you - or we can't afford, you know, your family to come and take part of this event.

MARTIN: Well, to that end, I think that's one reason why you're still continuing to write about the whole questions of joint housing, you know, base access, you know, health insurance benefits, for example. And so we'll be following your coverage on that.

Jonathan, thanks so much for - Sergeant Mills, excuse me. Sergeant Mills, thank you so much for joining us and coming to talk to us about this. We'll keep checking back in with you.

MILLS: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure.

MARTIN: Jonathan Mills is a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force. He's the publisher of OutServe magazine. That's a publication for and about gay and lesbian service members, and he joined us here in our Washington, D.C. studios. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.