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Stories from the Frontlines: Letters to President Barack Obama

“Stories from the Frontlines: Letters to President Barack Obama” is a new media campaign 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” (DADT). Every weekday morning as we approach the markup of the Defense Authorization bill in the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, SLDN and a coalition of voices supporting repeal, will share an open letter to the President from a person impacted by this discriminatory law. We are urging the President to include repeal in the Administration’s defense budget recommendations, but also to voice his support as we work to muster the 15 critical votes needed on the Senate Armed Services Committee to include repeal. The Defense Authorization bill represents the best legislative vehicle to bring repeal to the president’s desk. It also was the same vehicle used to pass DADT in 1993. By working together, we can help build momentum to get the votes! We ask that you forward and post these personal stories.

May 10, 2010

President Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

My name is Tracey Cooper-Harris. I served in the Army for 12 years, reaching the rank of Sergeant. As a soldier and a non-commissioned officer (NCO), I performed my duties with honor and distinction. I was lauded by my peers and superiors for going above and beyond the status quo to complete the mission.

And, I am gay.

I lived in constant fear serving under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I was always looking over my shoulder, censoring what I said and keeping as much physical distance as possible between my military life and my personal life.

Even with this vigilance, I was found out by some male “friends” at my first duty assignment. I was just 19 years old. The deal was simple: Perform sexual favors and my secret was safe.

I had a choice: 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.

My decision didn’t come without consequences. I was eventually diagnosed with an STD which could potentially lead to cervical cancer later in life.

I, frankly, am still ashamed of what I had to do to stay in the Army. I wasn’t discharged under DADT, but left because of it. I continue to attend counseling sessions provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs for what I went through. The memories still come back to haunt me some 16 years later.

I don’t want to see other service members go through what I went through. And unfortunately, this will continue to happen as long as DADT is law.

As long as a recruit or military member meets or exceeds the criteria for military service, let them serve. A bullet doesn’t discriminate because of a person’s race, gender identity, sex, religion, or sexual orientation, so why does the U.S. military continue to do so?

The time to repeal DADT is long overdue. Please, Mr. President, do the right thing.

Respectfully yours,
Former Sgt. Tracey L. Cooper-Harris
United States Army

1 thought on “Stories from the Frontlines: Letters to President Barack Obama”

  1. This happened to me as a teenager and civilian, when a close friend confided in her boyfriend that I was a lesbian. He took it upon himself to show me what I was missing when he dropped her off and went on to drive me home like we had so many times before, but instead stopped in an empty church parking lot. I screamed and fought and got out of the car only to be dragged to where I later found out they hosted bonfires for the youth ministry and raped. I couldn’t tell my parents I was gay (they didn’t speak to me for nearly a year when I came out as an adult). My friend threatened to out me to everyone and called me a slut when I tried to get her to break up with him. I can’t imagine what you must have gone through in the military when I didn’t have anything to lose but my reputation at 17. Thank you for protecting our country that won’t even give you the same rights as every other citizen. Thank you for giving up so much to serve. I cringe every time a conservative blowhard brings up rape as a deterrent to repealing DADT. Female service members have a 60% reported rate of military sexual trauma as it is. How dare they belittle not only your dedication, but your gender and your capacity to love? I am so proud of people like you. Thank you.

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