The overturning of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ is a Brown v Board for gays

The cultural significance of Congress’ move to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is so great that I think the comparison with Brown v. Board of Education is warranted. This should be a moment of great pride for many good Americans who have worked hard to move the national attitude so far so fast.

Just seventeen years ago, in 1993, a majority of U.S. citizens opposed gays serving in the military, Mark Shields recently pointed out in his recent appearance on the PBS NewsHour. Today, there is a three-to-one margin supporting gays openly serving—75% of Americans. Among women, the support is 80%.

Certainly that kind of sea change in America and in our cultural thought is gigantic and something we don’t often see. It’s positive and profound.

Much of the credit goes to the small but very determined efforts of a lot of individuals and groups on the local and personal level. The courage of many individuals who do not stay in the closet but instead come out and say who they are and that they have just as many rights as any other person does has earned the respect of their neighbors. Also groups like Lancaster Pride and their annual festivals have made an impact by going far beyond saying, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it,” have instead sent a message of unity and love and acceptance. Their message has been that it’s important that we learn to live and work together and not just tolerate each other but love each other and respect each other.

I hope that some of us straights, including straight Christians like me, have had some small and humble role in this shift. I was, for instance, deeply touched by the scenes of an Evangelical Christian man confessing the sins of the church to gay men and women at a pride festival in the excellent documentary Lord, Deliver Us From Your Followers.

This kind of cultural change does not come easily and is not to be taken lightly. The cultural impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in the 1950s to overturn the segregation of public schools was gigantic by simply allowing and in fact forcing children to interact with one another. Just as the military has been a force in a similar way, creating brothers out of blacks and whites who served together, I think we’ll see a similar impact of gays and straights who serve together, and see a breakdown of this idea that manliness and homosexuality are opposing forces.

One Lancaster resident whose efforts on this front I would like to single out and celebrate is Mark Stoner, who was recently recognized in the Central Penn Business Journal‘s twenty-fifth anniversary issue as one of the most influential minorities from the midstate from the past twenty-five years.

Mark Stoner