NORWALK, Conn. – When 22-year-old Anthony Grecco returns next month to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where he was discharged from a U.S. Army basic training program earlier this year, it won't matter who knows he's gay.
But it mattered in January when Grecco was outed by another soldier who "broke into my locker and read my personal journal. When he confronted me, I told the truth and spent seven weeks forced to see counselors before the Army dismissed me."
Grecco, of Waterbury, spoke with emotion Saturday afternoon to about 100 people gathered for a rally at St. Paul's on the Green, 60 East Ave., to celebrate the repeal of the controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" military policy.
"All I wanted was to serve my country and I didn't believe it mattered what my sexual orientation was," said Grecco, who has been notified he will be returning to basic training within weeks. "I've never been so happy in my life, as I plan on making the military my career."
Grecco credits his drill sergeant with providing support throughout his ordeal. "She's one of the reasons I never gave up."
Grecco spoke to a gathering attended by Fairfield County leaders and legislators, including U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, who has been a major supporter of repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT).
"We come together today to celebrate the end of a ridiculous, discriminatory injustice that told young people willing to serve and fight for our country they weren't wanted if their [sexual] orientation became known," said Himes, a Democrat whose district includes most of southern Fairfield County.
"While this is a major step forward, the fight for equal rights is far from over," Himes said. "We in Connecticut can be proud to serve as a model for the rest of the country and hope some of the other long-antiquated federal policies will also be changed."
Brian Rice of Stamford, who serves on the Board of Governors of the national Human Rights Campaign and as the group's Connecticut spokesman, said the rally was important to both "celebrate the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," as well as progress made in the state on gay marriage and other initiatives.
"But we still have battles left to fight on the national level to end discrimination against gays," Rice said. "And there are those on the far right who would even try to bring back DADT if elected. We've got to continue to be vigilant."
Under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," armed forces officials were not allowed to ask service members about their sexual orientation. Gay men and women were expected to keep their sexual preference a secret. Those who were open about their sexual orientation faced punishment and, often, expulsion.
The policy was originally signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, and upheld until President Barack Obama signed the law to repeal it earlier this year.
What are your views on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell? Leave a comment below. To reach Richard Weizel, email firstname.lastname@example.org.