Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein issued the following statement today following the vote to limit debate and proceed to the final passage of the bill to repeal the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
“The first vote today to move forward with the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was 63-33 to end discrimination against gay men and women in the United States military. Seventeen years ago, the vote was exactly the opposite, 33-63. One-third of support has changed to two-thirds of the United States Senate supporting the repeal of Don't ask, Don't Tell over the past seventeen years.
“I strongly believe that is emblematic of the change of thinking in the United States. Over these last years, gay Americans have established themselves as heroes, as professionals, as academicians, and as brave warriors for our country.
“There are millions of stories that demonstrate this, but I will share just a few that stand out. In 1975, I was there in San Francisco when a woman carrying a gun attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford. It was a gay man who grabbed her gun which deflected the shot aimed at our President.
“In 1982, I remember when a plane crashed on the 14th Street Bridge in Washington and passengers were on the verge of drowning in the ice-covered Potomac River. It was a gay man who jumped in the freezing water to save them.
“It was a gay woman serving as an Army medic in Iraq who saved the lives of innocent civilians who were critically wounded after a car bomb exploded in their midst. I can go on and on. “Gays and lesbians are not the first group of Americans to be denied their civil rights. And they are not the first group to fight in service for the cherished freedom and equality which they have been denied.
“They have struggled long and hard to see this day. They have fought and died for their country, and they are out there on the battlefield today as we stand here debating whether they deserve their rights. I am proud to see this vote for them today.”
Following are Senator Feinstein’s floor remarks:
“Don't ask, Don't Tell has been with us now for 17 years. I just pulled a speech that I made on the floor seventeen years ago. The DREAM Act has been with us for nine years. So neither of these are surprise bills. Both of these affect large numbers of people in major ways. For many, they are their life. For those who love the military, who see no life outside of the military, they are their life. Don't Ask, Don't Tell is their life. And the same can be said for students. The DREAM act becomes their life.
“Let me begin with Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Seventeen years ago Senator Boxer introduced an amendment on the floor. I spoke in support of that amendment. We lost by a vote of 33-63. Only one-third of the United States Senate voted to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell in what was a benign resolution, essentially a consent resolution. But it lost. It lost despite the testimony of legions of military. Well, time has gone by seventeen long years.
“Many of us believe the policy is unconstitutional. We believe it does more harm than good. Today, almost two decades later, I am only more certain that is true.
“The criteria for serving in the United States Armed Forces should be courage, competence, and a willingness to serve. No one should be turned away because of who they are – not because of their race, or their sex, or their sexuality.
“However, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy has required gay and lesbian Americans to make a choice – you can serve the country you love, but only if you lie about who you really are.
“This harmful policy has forced honorable American soldiers to conceal their true selves from their family, their friends, their fellow Service members, and their military superiors. It has deprived the United States military of talent and badly needed specialized skills.
“Let me tell you about one person. Sergeant Lacye Presley served two tours of duty in Iraq as an Army Medic. The Army awarded her a Bronze Star for her heroic action in keeping several critically wounded civilians alive after a car bomb exploded in their midst. Another Army Sergeant who worked with her around the same time said this about Sergeant Presley, “I would serve with Sergeant Presley any day, no doubt about it. She's one of the best medics that I've ever seen in my 18 years of service.”
“But Sergeant Presley was discharged after someone reported her sexual orientation to a senior commander.
“I can go on and on. But this is one for Sergeant Presley.
“It makes no sense to ask our gay and lesbian soldiers to put their lives on the line, while at the same time asking them to live in the shadows.
“I stand here today just as I did seventeen years ago – to advocate for those who serve our country loyally and courageously, but in the shadows.
“Mr. President, the time to act is now.
“I urge my colleagues to vote YES on the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act.”