For couples of every orientation, one of the most memorable moments of Christmas morning is waking up beside your loved one and hearing "Merry Christmas. I love you."
Even as the holidays become more and more commercial, they still hold a special place in our hearts as we spend time with our partners, families and loved ones. Despite the capitalist urge to shop, shop, shop, there are still some genuine moments, and spending the holidays with the people who we are closest to is still the highlight of the season for many of us.
But for some LGBT couples, the holidays are especially trying. Imagine spending Christmas morning alone, while your partner is half a world (or more) away. Imagine if you could not pick up the phone on December 25 and call your partner to say "I love you," or share a loving moment with them by phone or even through a holiday card. For service members in the U.S. military, and their loved ones back home, such a simple, but powerful, moment of tenderness could mean the end of their careers. Under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," happy holidays are few and far between.
As Jennifer Vanasco reports at 365Gay.com, the holidays can be enormously difficult for gay troops. "Servicemembers say that they have to take the most extraordinary precautions for the most ordinary activities," Vanasco writes. "They need to watch everything they say, using gender neutral pronouns or making up a significant other of the opposite gender. They need to hide who sent them care packages, who sent them a letter, who they write to themselves. If they're deployed in a foreign country, their partners need to limit calls to the shared phone, lest others on the base (who usually answer that phone) begin to suspect something is up."
And it's equally harsh for the loved one who is stateside. "The military has an excellent support system for family members left behind that includes counseling, a newsletter updating families on unit activities, and support groups and networks," Vanasco points out. "But gay partners of servicemembers can't take advantage of any of that. If they do, they risk outing their partner – who under the policy will then lose their job."
Indeed, phone calls, messages, email traffic and other communication in a warzone is often monitored by the military, and a term of endearment, phrase of affection or moment of intimacy with someone of the same gender can trigger a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" investigation. Such "statements," as the military would call them, can mean the end of a career and an intrusive inquiry into a service member's private life.
So while heterosexual troops make those much fabled calls home, and occassionally even get an invitation to appear on national television and be reunited, through the magic of satellite broadcasting, with their husband or wife, gay troops often spend the holidays in silence and alone.
The result is a less-than-merry Christmas morning.
"The holidays bring up memories, expectations," Trey Malicoat, a therapist who has worked with servicemembers, tells 365. "There are more parties, more activities, there's a financial drain. For gay soldiers, there's the added burden of not being able to talk about home, about where he or she would like to be, about the person who has the most significance in his or her life."
"Malicoat says that this added burden can bring anxiety, depression and an increased sense of isolation to servicemembers who already feel isolated", Vanasco notes.
So it's no surprise that, at this time of the year, calls to Servicemembers Legal Defense Network tend to increase. SLDN attorneys often report that, during the holidays, their family counsel to service members is equally important - if not more so - than the legal counsel they provide. Troops feel isolated, lonely and separated from their partners. In addition to all the sacrifices every service member is asked to make as a condition of enlisting in our armed forces, these men and women are asked to make one more, especially unfair, sacrifice: Being silent with, and about, the people they love.
As SLDN pointed out in a recent article, same-sex families are hit especially hard by "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The law makes it incredibly difficult to maintain a relationship, raise children and manage the day-to-day necessities of having a family. And as Jen Kopfstein, an SLDN client who contacted the organization several years ago while deployed abroad during the holidays, told Vanasco, "Under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' you go years and years having to hide who you are. The policy affects how you relate to people, your friendships, your work relationships, everything."
Because of this heinous law, there will be no more Christmas morning "I Love Yous" for many in our community. And that is one more reason - and perhaps one of the most poignant of all - why this law must go.