The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has a new project called Stories from the Frontlines: Letters to President Barack Obama, a campaign they launched “to underscore the urgent need for congressional action and presidential leadership at this critical point in the fight to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Each entry in the series is a letter from a soldier or former soldier whose life and career has been affected by DADT, from the Navy Petty Officer Third Class who saw the US Navy as the family he never had, but was tormented and brutally hazed by superiors who suspected he was gay to the former Army Captain from a military family who served alongside a woman who was known to be gay, but who was never turned in because her colleagues respected her abilities and didn’t want to lose her.
A story was posted on Monday that just about broke my heart. Former Sergeant Tracy Cooper-Harris served in the US Army for twelve years. Shortly after she joined the service, several male colleagues discovered that she was a lesbian and blackmailed her, demanding sexual favors in return for their silence. Cooper-Harris submitted, and was able to keep serving, but at a terrible cost.
“I had a choice,” she writes. “Report these men for ‘sexual harassment/cohesion’ and end my military career or submit to their demands.”
Despite the military’s “zero tolerance” policy on sexual harassment, it doesn’t apply to those forced in the closet under DADT. I was sexually blackmailed and just a teenager.
At that time, as well as other times during my military service, I had seen friends discharged under DADT who were in similar situations. My friends were discharged, while their perpetrators were given a slap on the wrist.
The signal from command was clear: being gay was a far more serious offense in the military than sexually harassing a fellow service member. I ultimately chose what I believed was the best decision for me at the time. I let these men have their way with me in exchange for their silence.
I am not proud of what I did, but I loved my job too much to let it destroy my career before it had even started.
Cooper-Harris eventually left the military, not because she was outed and discharged, but because of the trauma she experienced trying to keep her identity a secret. Sixteen years later, she’s undergoing psychological treatment to try to heal.
It makes me furious that our government fails to protect the men and women who risk their lives to defend it. It makes me angrier still that the policies currently in place make harassment, assault and blackmail possible and probably. No American, no human being, deserves the kind of treatment Cooper-Harris endured. The fact that she endured it in the name of serving her country, despite that the military’s use of such a policy, is a testament to how lucky we are to have people like her fighting for us.
Go read the rest of Cooper-Harris’ story. In fact, go read the whole series. And then write to your congressional representative, or sign SLDN’s petition, or write your own letter to the President urging him to support the repeal of DADT.