WASHINGTON, D.C. — Three times has Jacob Reitan tried to enlist in the military, first in Roseville, Minn., again in Portland, Maine, and a third time in Times Square, New York. All three times, the Eden Prairie man openly identified himself as gay, and all three times he was told no — denied because of a long-standing policy barring gays from serving in the military.
There has long been a restriction on homosexual, bisexual and transgendered people serving in the military. President Bill Clinton aimed to soften that provision in 1993 through an executive order known as “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” a policy intended to work just as its name suggests.
Reitan, who tried to enlist (knowing he’d be denied) as a form of protest, has become one of the faces of repealing those rules. So it was little surprise that Tuesday morning he was was home watching a televised Senate Armed Services committee hearing on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, where top Defense Department officials were to lay out their plans for repealing the measure.
Reitan said he had expected the officials to back some gradual plan, perhaps equivocate a little. Instead, he heard Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the highest-ranking uniformed officer, say the following:
“Mr. Chairman, speaking for myself and myself only, it is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.
“For me, personally, it comes down to integrity — theirs as individuals and ours as an institution. I also believe that the great young men and women of our military can and would accommodate such a change. I never underestimate their ability to adapt.”
Mullen underscored his point on Twitter following the hearing: “Stand by what I said: Allowing homosexuals to serve openly is the right thing to do. Comes down to integrity.”
“That is really a turning point,” Reitan said late Tuesday. “Today is obviously a great day for the gay community, as it spells the beginning of the end for ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'”
Reitan said Mullen’s remarks make repealing the policy — which he said is “morally equivalent to a lunch counter that wouldn’t serve people based on the color of their skin” — a “this-year priority.”