Military Veteran: Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell “A burden off my shoulders”

Posted by Maddie Hanna on

"Minutes after the Senate voted to allow gays to serve openly in the military, Mary Lou Paquette said she felt a weight had been lifted.

"'It's a burden off my shoulders,' said Paquette, who spent 28 years hiding her sexuality while serving in the Air Force and Army National Guard. 'And I'm sure off many people's shoulders.'

"One of Paquette's four brothers who served in the military is also gay, 'and in fact I just got an e-mail from him,' she said yesterday afternoon. 'We're sharing tears over the internet.'

"Paquette, 52, of Concord, retired from the Guard in 2006. She became an advocate for ending the 17-year-old 'don't ask, don't tell' policy, which the Senate voted decisively to repeal yesterday, 65 to 31.

"Among those who voted in favor of repeal was Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who said in a statement that the occasion as 'the opportunity -- with a single vote -- to right a wrong.'

... "The bill now goes to President Obama, who is expected to sign it into law next week.

"For activists, the vote was a civil rights victory. Sean Eldridge, the political director of the national Freedom to Marry campaign, likened the ban on serving openly to laws that prohibit gay marriage and called military discrimination 'one of the cruelest inequalities inflicted on gay Americans by their own government' in a statement released in support of the bill's passage.

"Several veterans who spoke to the Monitor yesterday evening supported the repeal and called it a measure of progress. But to them, the vote wasn't as monumental as it was a matter of common sense.

"'I think it's a matter of everyone growing up,' said Clark Corson, 66, of Madbury, who served in Vietnam with the New Hampshire National Guard. 'I think it's a matter of everyone has the right to be who they are.'

"Of the 105 men in Corson's unit in Vietnam, three were gay. 'I don't know what the percentages today are, and it doesn't matter,' he said. 'If they're willing to serve their country, we have to rise above the 20th-century thinking.'

"Corson said he thinks opponents of repealing 'don't ask, don't tell' were creating an unnecessary problem.

"'We have enough internal divisiveness without pointing to a person's sexuality,' he said. 'That has no place in being an American, and it really never has.'

"Jim Pitts, who also served in Vietnam, described yesterday's vote as 'long overdue.' Pitts, who was a commissioned officer in the Army from 1967 to 1987 and who recently retired as Bow's town manager, said he had soldiers working under him who were gay, 'and we knew they were gay.'

"'I think the truth is, those of us on the line had a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy long before the Army did,' Pitts said. 'I certainly didn't report them. They were doing a fine job.'

... "Paquette said that she since opened up about her sexuality, she's gotten 'probably 90 percent positive' feedback in favor of allowing gays to serve openly.

"And while there will always be negativity, she said, a positive conversation is advancing. She works with a man, a 'very staunch Republican conservative,' who she thought might shy away from her after she began writing letters to local newspapers in support of her cause.

"'But he makes a point, every time he reads something, to come and talk to me,' she said. 'It's wonderful. We're keeping the dialogue going, which is wonderful.'"

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