In December, I — in my sometimes, though not usual, Negative Nancy outlook on life — penned a blog post for the Center for American Progress’ CampusProgress.org in which I said the last-minute, lame duck push to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) might have been too little, too late.
“There’s certainly a lesson for students in all this mess: Procrastination never results in a positive outcome,” I wrote.
In this instance, luckily, procrastination didn’t give way to defeat. The Senate voted 65-31 to repeal DADT on Dec. 18 — the first time our federal legislature has seen fit to say LGBT Americans are equal and as deserving as their heterosexual counterparts. Perhaps, I was just a bit bitter, after years of watching political games ruin progress on LGBT equality. Fortunately, I was wrong.
Watching the vote, I was surprised to learn eight Republicans voted to repeal the discriminatory 1993 law. Among them was my own senator, Richard Burr.
See, Burr and I have a long history together (whether he knows it or not). Both of us are natives of Winston-Salem, N.C. I was just a kid in elementary school when I first met Burr, then a member of the U.S. House. I was all decked out in my Cub Scout uniform attending an older boy’s Eagle Scout ceremony. Burr was there to help bestow the honors.
As I got older and more politically aware, I’d often write Burr. I visited his Winston-Salem office a few times. I eventually attended and graduated from the same high school he did. I’m a member of Wake Forest Baptist Church, which still meets on the campus of his alma mater.
Though we had all these things in common, I was always infuriated with Burr’s lack of vision on LGBTQ equality. As a member of the House and Senate, Burr often voted for anti-LGBTQ initiatives like a federal constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples or a gay adoption ban in Washington, D.C. (Fortunately, both failed.)
So, when I heard Burr had voted for DADT repeal, I was floored.
“This is, I think, a policy that generationally is right,” Burr told reporters after the vote. “A majority of Americans have grown up at a time that they don’t think exclusion is the right thing for the United States to do. It is not accepted practice anywhere else in our society and it only makes sense.”
Like DADT repeal generally, Burr’s single vote is historic in its own right. It marks the first time a Southern Republican has voted for pro-equality legislation, according to advocates with Equality North Carolina.
“His vote marks a significant first for our state and our region, and we hope it will encourage other fair-minded Republicans to stand up for fairness as well,” Equality North Carolina Executive Director Ian Palmquist said in a message to supporters.
I don’t know if Burr’s sudden change on DADT will extend to other matters, like employment non-discrimination or marriage, but I can hope. Burr’s December vote on DADT, along with those of seven other Republicans, should be seen as a sign of progress and it certainly made me proud to be a North Carolinian.
There are positive changes taking place all around us and all the time, even among people we might not generally perceive as supportive. Let this serve as a lesson to me, to keep hope alive even in the face of uncertainty.
P.S. — On a slightly related note, let me add because I just can’t help myself: I think it is quite ironic our usually-conservative, anti-gay, Republican U.S. senator is more progressive on LGBT issues than Charlotte’s entire Democratic city council. One votes to repeal a massive piece of legislation that discriminates against tens of thousands of U.S. citizens. The others can’t even bring themselves to vote on simple policy changes meant to protect LGBT employees. Wow. And, I’ll leave that at that. : :