Vermont Law School student reflects on impacts of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law

Editor’s note: This opinion is from Erica Lewis, a first-year student at Vermont Law School.

United we stand, divided we fall. Our nation was founded under this basic principle, yet we have allowed ourselves to place barriers in the way of national unity. I am struck with bitterness that our military continues to impose a policy that discriminates based on sexual orientation, and even more awestruck that our legal system has failed to correct this injustice. A strong personal conviction to fight for individual liberty of all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation, compelled me to lobby in D.C. for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Under the leadership and support of the wonderful faculty at Vermont Law School, a group of students traveled to Washington D.C. for the 18th annual lobby day on March 19, 2010. We awoke Friday morning and made our way to the Rayburn building, located in the heart of the nation’s capitol city. Orientation was met with enthusiasm, cautious optimism, and even frustration on behalf of individuals who had been working tirelessly over the past 17 years to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Despite the challenge we faced in trying to convince politicians to vote to repeal the law, I feel our efforts made an influence on the minds of politicians who will be voting for the repeal of DADT.

My group included four military personnel, one of whom was discharged under DADT after 12 years in the service. Another was retired after 20 years in the military, but had endured a career of isolation, fear, and seclusion. She shared her story with senators, congressmen, and various staff members. Her story was not unique, but it was a powerful example of how the military has lost valuable service members due to this oppressive law. I shared my story as well, and felt proud to represent Vermont Law School, one of two schools in the country that does not allow the military to recruit on campus because they discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

The highlight of my lobby day experience was the annual SLDN dinner on Saturday. Hundreds of people came together for the common purpose of ending a law that has either directly or indirectly impacted all Americans. I was inspired by the courage of active service men and women who risk their careers by fighting for change. Many of them will loose their jobs, even more will not be able to serve the country they love, and our national security will continue to be compromised as long as so many people are not free to be who they are while serving in the military.

I remain hopeful that this discriminatory law will be repealed. Individual freedom must be protected, and I am honored to be a part of a group of people who are working for justice.

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