HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's a historic day for the U.S. military. After years of debate, the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for gay, actively serving troops is over.
The repeal allows gays and lesbians to discuss their private lives openly - if they choose to - without fear of reprisals, punishments, or discharge from the military.
At Hula's Bar and Lei Stand in Waikiki, they're celebrating with a Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal party. "It makes me happy that everybody is safe now, and there's no chance that, in the future, I will get kicked out," says Navy Petty Officer, Dick Armstrong.
In his 37 years as a gay bar owner, Jack Law has had plenty of military patrons, but it was often hush-hush. Now, they don't have to worry. "They had to live this way because they were dedicated to their job, not because they wanted to lie," explains Law. They didn't want to lose their job that they worked so hard to have."
Navy corpsman, Jeffry Priela heads the Hawaii chapter of OutServe - an association of active-duty lesbian, gay, and bi-sexual military personnel from all ranks and branches. He says, "The last line of what's known as the Sailor's Creed says, 'I'm committed to excellence and fair treatment of all'. I think that is more true today than it ever was for me."
OutServe has about 40 chapters worldwide - with four thousand members, including 150 members right here in the islands. "Today, specifically, I do feel a little sense of joy within myself, knowing that it's no longer a secret, and I can just be who I am," says OutServe member Alexander Michaels.
Priela adds that, while this shows our armed forces are more accepting of diversity, these troops still have a job to do for their country. "Basically, it's just business as usual. Our high standards will continue to evolve and grow, and we're just going to carry on with the mission."
Under the 1993 policy, the military discharged more than 14 thousand servicemembers for being gay. Last December, lawmakers voted to lift the ban and in July, President Obama signed off on it. The U.S. is now one of 30 countries that allows openly gay individuals to serve in the military.
Millions of troops have undergone extensive sensitivity training, and Pentagon officials have reviewed policies that affect issues like housing and healthcare benefits. This is the armed forces' biggest sea change in decades, and so far, officials say they've found no evidence that the repeal is hurting unit cohesion.