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Repeal Day Marks The End Of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

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"Don't ask, don't tell" is no more. The policy barred openly gay, lesbian or bisexual people from serving in the military.

Gay rights groups held Repeal Day celebrations across the country. One celebration took place in Greenwich Village at the historic Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the gay rights movement.

During the Clinton administration, don't ask, don't tell was a compromise. It seemed at first a more progressive policy than bringing gays up on charges of sodomy, or giving them dishonorable discharges or putting them in military mental hospitals.

Sue Fulton, a 1980 West Point graduate and a captain in the Army, is now the executive director of Knights Out, an organization of gay West Point graduates. Standing outside the Stonewall Inn, she remembered that in the beginning people thought the policy might work.

"If you think about don't ask, don't tell, it seems even-handed," Fulton said.

But in execution, she said, no one was ever punished for asking, only for telling. Fulton was not discharged because of the policy. She left on her own.

"I couldn't stand lying about my life, hiding my partner and my family," Fulton said. "I know so many people who that's their situation. The 14,000 who have been kicked out are just a small fraction of those who have been affected negatively by this policy."

Filmmakers Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey produced and directed The Strange History of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which is being shown on HBO. They were at the Stonewall on Tuesday night.

"I remember thinking, well it's not great, but it is a compromise," Bailey said. "I don't think Randy or I had any idea how iniquitous it was. There was a ban before but there wasn't a law. So really it wasn't a compromise, it was an enormous step backward."

Anthony Grecco was discharged from the military under don't ask, don't tell. He said he was outed by a buddy who read his journal, before he even finished his training. He said ending the policy changes everything for him.

"I've never been so happy in my life," Grecco said. "It means the world to me. It means my future to me."

He's enlisting this week and has already finished the paperwork.

"I am re-enlisting as a human intelligence collector; I plan on doing psy-ops and making a career of it. Once I finish my bachelors' degree, I fully intend on going to Officer Candidate School and just excel from there," Grecco added.

About 150 people crowded into the Stonewall Inn bar, and there were cheers when someone stepped up to the microphone to lead a farewell to don't ask, don't tell.

As to what really propelled the change, people at the Stonewall gave many reasons: changes in attitudes in the country as a whole, shifting attitudes among top military brass, gay activism, legal action and the increasing needs of a military waging several wars.

"When we're at war what matters is: Do you have my back? Are you supporting me down range?" said Sue Fulton of Knights Out. "All of this other nonsense about who is waiting for you back home, or what the color of your skin is, or who you worship, those things don't matter when you're down range, when you are under fire. It comes down to do you have the character and the ability to have my back. Gays and lesbians have proven throughout this conflict that they do."

A time of war, she added, is often when the military can make cultural changes more easily.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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