They were young children — mere kids when the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays serving openly in the military took effect. But over two decades, attitudes shifted, America changed and these youngsters grew up to win coveted spots in the top military academies.
Now they are giving a collective shrug to Tuesday’s end of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” era.
The nation’s military leaders of tomorrow say they have less preoccupation with the sexual orientation of their colleagues than generations before them. And gay students are quietly reporting that a burden is being lifted that had weighed down those who went before them through the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy.
In interviews at all three academies, midshipmen and cadets tell The Associated Press that the once-thorny issue of homosexuality doesn’t create controversy as in the past. Students who weren’t even in their teens at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have grown up in a nation at war. They say competence and character are what matter.
“The United States has been ready for a long time for them to be able to serve openly, and they deserve to serve openly,” said Naval Midshipman Lorenzo Santos, of King George, Va. , interviewed in Annapolis. “They’re going to do the job, the same job, just as well as anybody else, and they’re going to risk their lives besides everyone else.”
Gay activists and others say such talk on the campuses bears out a shift in attitudes regarding sexual orientation.
“They are of a generation that doesn’t really care,” said Dan Choi, a gay activist, former Army lieutenant and West Point graduate who was discharged from the military for revealing his orientation.