Last week, the ACLU of Washington celebrated the courage of Major Margaret Witt and the conclusion of her five-year battle against the Air Force for unlawfully discharging her under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. In dropping its appeal of the federal court ruling in Maj. Witt’s favor, the Air Force also agreed to remove the discharge from her record and retire her with full benefits. As we watched last week’s events unfold, I couldn’t help but wonder what Sergeant Perry Watkins would have thought about all of this.
Many people don’t realize that long before Major Witt challenged the ban on open service, Perry Watkins served as an openly gay male in the U.S. Army from 1968 until 1984, when the military finally discharged him because of his sexual orientation. The ACLU and cooperating attorney James Lobsenz represented Sgt. Watkins in the 1980s and fought his discharge, successfully winning his reinstatement to the Army in 1990. Like Major Witt, Sergeant Watkins retired with full benefits.
Sadly, Perry Watkins passed away in 1996. But if he were alive today, I suspect he would have been quite pleased with Major Witt’s victory and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” And he would have wondered what took the military so long to acknowledge thousands of gay and lesbian U.S. servicemembers and allow them to serve openly.