In his debut, gay rights activist Nicholson chronicles the successful fight for the repeal of the U.S. military’s controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
DADT was first enacted in 1993 during the Clinton administration as a compromise to allow gays to serve in the military. Gay soldiers were still required to keep their orientation secret, however, and they could still be discharged for that reason alone. As such, DADT effectively kept the long-standing ban in place, and many gay and straight civil libertarians actively campaigned for it to be repealed. Nicholson tells his own story of being outed and ejected from the Army in 2002, which led him to activism. He writes of his feeling that the organizations already fighting for repeal weren’t communicating the message effectively to the general public. “We had the support of Joe Q. San Francisco...but we did not have the support of Betty and Bob Q. Omaha,” he writes. The author concluded that an organization of gay military service members was needed to help make people in Middle America listen. He got in touch with like-minded activists and, in 2005, founded what would become Servicemembers United, the largest organization of gay troops and veterans in the United States. Members met with political and military leaders, including former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and then-California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and lobbied the Obama administration and Congress. The work of Servicemembers United and other organizations paid off: DADT was repealed and officially ended in September 2011. Nicholson’s narrative can be somewhat repetitive at times, and some of the minutiae of activist organizing may not interest casual readers. Still, he provides a rarely seen look at how activist organizations tirelessly work to build delicate alliances in Washington.
An intriguing look at gay activism inside the Beltway.