My name is Linda Reyes-Hart and this is my story.
Mary Hart and I met in 1990 when she was serving in the Army National Guard. Back then it was not okay for homosexuals to serve openly in the Armed Services. In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed into law "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." DADT defined homosexuality as "an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability." The military was not allowed to ask if she was gay. So she didn't tell. We lived the majority of our first 20 years together in the closet.
During those years, Mary was deployed twice: in 2000 she served in Bosnia and in 2005 in Iraq. I always felt that I had it easier than she did during those deployments. I was at home, safe with family and friends. She was serving our country in the closet. She had no one to talk to about her feelings; about how much she loved and missed me. She had to keep it all to herself. But it was something she had to do. She took an oath to serve our country and I 'secretly' took an oath to stand by her side.
Fast forward to 2009. Mary was asked to deploy once again, for the third time. This time her destination was Afghanistan. This time I was frightened more than ever. Iraq was no cake walk but Afghanistan was going to be much harder. When Mary went to Afghanistan for a 3-week reconnaissance mission that year, I was more worried and scared for her safety than I was during the previous deployments. I knew it would be difficult for both of us. Then while training for that deployment she fell and tore her ACL. She was done. No more training. No more deployment. I thought "Yes! [fist pump], she doesn't have to go to Afghanistan.”
A short time later, near the end of 2010 with efforts led by President Barack Obama, DADT was repealed. We could finally live openly as a couple. Things were starting to take a turn for the better. That next year, Mary retired as a Lt. Colonel after serving 22 years in the US Army National Guard.
This is not where our story ends, but rather where our story really begins.
Since Mary retired from the military, we no longer had to worry about her career being jeopardized. We decided it was time to start fighting openly for our civil rights -- not just the right to marry but other rights we could be denied because we were gay. And it wasn't just about us. We wanted to help others. We couldn't sit by idly and watch others be discriminated against just because they were gay.
We decided to get involved and joined the Human Rights Campaign. We became members of the Federal Club and joined the DFW Governing Committee. Since joining, we've met some inspiring women and men who continue to fight for LGBTQ rights.
Today we have marriage equality. Now what?
Across our country, in some states there are nondiscrimination bills that would provide comprehensive protections for LGTBQ Americans. But in other states there are harmful anti-LGBT bills, religious exemption bills, bills pre-empting local protections, anti-transgender bills and other anti-LGBT bills.
The Human Rights Campaign, along with tens of thousands of advocates, works around the clock to lobby members of Congress on critical legislation that would greatly affect the lives of LGBTQ Americans. The Equality Act, introduced last year establishes explicit, permanent protections against discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity in matters of employment, housing, access to public places, federal funding, credit, education and jury service. In essence, it would amend the Civil Rights act of 1964 to include sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
How can you help? I'm asking you to join me and Mary as we continue to fight for equal rights for all Americans. By joining the Federal Club for as little as $100 per month (only $3.29 per day), your ongoing pledge is a cost-effective way to contribute to HRC and ensures HRC has the resources for its legislative and advocacy work.
If you have questions about becoming a Federal Club member, please contact any of our local HRC leaders: Steve Wiscaver, Liz Rodriquez, Jaime Duggan or Barry Robertson or send an email to Member Services. I appreciate your support as we all fight for our Equal Rights!