Six years after she was kicked out of the U.S. Air Force for being a lesbian, four years after she began fighting that expulsion in court, and just a few days after a federal judge in Tacoma ruled she must be reinstated because there's no proof her homosexuality harmed military morale or readiness, Major Margaret Witt, speaking by phone from her home in Spokane on September 27, said she's "feeling great—absolutely terrific."
The ruling, which came from U.S. District Court judge Ronald B. Leighton after a two-week trial, adds momentum to the legal assault on the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy (DADT) and affirms what many are now calling the "Witt standard."
As articulated by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2008, when that court sent Witt's case back down to the Tacoma court in which it had originated, the new standard within the Ninth Circuit (much of the western United States) is that soldiers cannot be kicked out under DADT unless there is proof they are harming military readiness. Judge Leighton choked up as he told Witt she was "a central figure in a long-term, highly charged civil-rights movement." Seeking reinstatement as a flight nurse, he added, "will provide the best evidence that open service of gays and lesbians will have no adverse effect on cohesion, morale, or readiness in this or perhaps any air force or military unit."
Witt said she plans to rejoin her unit soon, and that she's not nervous about reentering military culture after such a long and public fight against it. "I'm excited about that," she said. "I think that my unit members will welcome me back. That's what they've said throughout the years."
Indeed, the fact that her unit members saw her expulsion—and not her homosexuality—as the real harm to unit morale became a compelling part of the case that was presented to Judge Leighton. Winning has been "surreal," Witt said, and having her name attached to a new standard is a bit like being the Miranda behind Miranda rights.
But she realizes the fight isn't over, of course. Last week, Republicans in the U.S. Senate filibustered a defense spending bill that would have allowed DADT to be repealed, and so far, President Obama has not made good on his campaign-trail promise to scrap the policy. Still, Witt is optimistic. "I think that every time we can come out with a positive situation, a positive verdict, a positive example, we're just going to get that much closer," she said. "We're still in a big push now, and I hope that we see it through sooner rather than later."
Allowing DADT to linger, even in diminished form, "underestimates the professionalism of our troops," Witt said—including the estimated 65,000 gay and lesbian service members.
"We're very adaptable," Witt continued, speaking of the military as a whole. "We do what we're told. We are the most diverse workforce in the world. Give us some credit." Then, nodding toward the military's history of integrating women and minorities, she pointed out: "We've done it before."
As for President Obama, she voted for him in 2008 and is watching him closely on this issue. "He said he's going to get it done this year, and I still hope that that's going to happen," Witt said. "I still have faith that he will."
Will she vote for him in 2012 if DADT is not repealed by then? "I'll probably cross that bridge when I come to it," she said. But if it's not repealed, she added, "I'll be very disappointed."