Next week, the Senate is expected to cast a long-awaited vote on the Department of Defense Authorization bill. As almost everyone now knows, the bill holds a special significance for our community this year because of its potential to repeal the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual service members.
There is now a second reason for the LGBT community to press for passage of DoD Authorization, however, and it, too, is tied to the promise of full participation in the life of our country.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that he would offer an amendment to the Authorization bill to pass the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act - also known as the DREAM Act - and provide a path to citizenship for undocumented young people already in the United States. The DREAM Act is a critically important piece of legislation which would allow these young men and women, most of whom were brought to the U.S. without status through no fault of their own, to finally begin building a life in the only country they have every really called home.
Many of the undocumented youth who will benefit from passage of DREAM also happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Yet, for each of them, the promise of DREAM cannot truly be fully realized unless it is accompanied by repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
DREAM offers two potential paths to citizenship: One through higher education; the other, through military service. That second option, however, would be closed to LGBT youth should "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" remain the law of the land. So, in order for undocumented LGBT youth to have an equal shot at becoming citizens of the United States, the military ban must also fall.
Majority Leader Reid, no doubt recognizing the additional burden those young people would face, has wisely decided to move forward on both repeal and DREAM simultaneously. Both are essential to our national security, and both expand the possibilities of full citizenship to deserving, but previously excluded, men and women who want to be part of making our nation stronger.
It is no coincidence, however, that many of the anti-immigrant forces in our country will also be among the loudest opposing an end to the military ban.
In the nearly ten years I spent working for repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," it became very clear that one true motivation of anti-repeal advocates was always to stop any progress for LGBT people at all. Recognizing that, once someone is able to fight and die for our country, there is little our country can deny them, those who fought against repeal were also fighting against the promises of full citizenship in the United States for people they who they believe shouldn't fully participate in the life of the country at all.
In short: Anti-repeal forces were fearful that, once America learned we were willing to fight for the country's freedom, Americans might be willing to give those same freedoms to us.
There's little question that a similar motivation is behind the anti-immigrant forces in our country. They, too, will work non-stop to deny the American dream to those who want little more than an opportunity to work hard and make our country better.
As Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, said yesterday, the DREAM Act - whether through a college degree or military enlistment - "provides an opportunity to build a life, and fully participate, in the country they call home."
For many young people, and especially for those from low economic backgrounds, the military has always been a way "up and out" of poverty. The armed forces - whether one agrees with specific military actions, or not - has long offered some of the best economic, educational and life opportunities in the world. It is no coincidence that our armed forces are, increasingly, made up of minorities and young people from economically disadvantaged circumstances. For young, undocumented immigrants who have had many avenues for progress shut off to them, it now also holds the same potential of a new, better life for each of them.
It would simply be unconscionable to make just 50% of that potential available to those who also happen to be LGBT.
Majority Leader Reid is smart to move forward on lifting the military ban, and passing DREAM, simultaneously. The end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," for so many young people, also holds the first promise of realizing the American DREAM.
For more information on the DREAM Act, visit www.dreamactivist.org.