Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Margaret Wittphoto courtesy Mychal Richardson

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?

LCC speaker will discuss her role in taking down anti-gay military policy

“One day I was fine, and the next I had a label that I wasn’t fit to serve,” says retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Margaret Witt.

Over her 19-year military career, Witt logged nearly 2,000 hours as a flight nurse in the Air Force before being suspended in 2004 and facing dismissal under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. She will give a free public talk about her case April 5 at Lane Community College. 

She served in Operation Enduring Freedom and received a medal from President George W. Bush for delivering “outstanding medical care” to injured service members and reflecting “great credit upon herself and the United States Air Force,” according the ACLU, which worked on her case.

Witt says she was fortunate that she could stand up and fight — and had the support to do it. There were 14,000 people discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell who “just disappeared,” she says.

Witt legally challenged her discharge, and in 2010 the courts ruled that the dismissal violated her constitutional rights and ordered her reinstatement. Her legal fight helped lead to the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of that same year.

“I helped push it along,” Witt says of the repeals of the policy that allowed gay people to serve in the military as long as the military didn’t know they were gay. “They didn’t really want the courts making the law,” she says of how her case pushed the legislation. 

Military policy on LGBTQ people took a step back on Friday, March 23, when President Donald Trump approved a policy that saying that “transgender persons who require or have undergone gender transition are disqualified from military service.”

 “It turns my stomach every time they come out with something,” Witts says. “It’s so wrong. It’s disheartening. It’s disrespectful. It’s humiliating. These are people willing to serve our country who happen to be transgender.” 

She continues, “It breaks my heart — when you know what it takes to serve, and your own struggles at the same time. You are the soldier, the airman, the marine — it’s part of you.”

It makes no sense, she says, just as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell made no sense.

As part of the LCC community speaker series, KLCC reporter Tiffany Eckert will lead a community conversation with Witt, who will also take questions from the audience and participate in a book signing and sale of her memoir, Tell: Love, Defiance, and the Military Trial at the Tipping Point of Gay Rights.

Margaret Witt speaks 6 pm Thursday, April 5, at LCC’s Center for Meeting and Learning, 4000 E. 30th Avenue. FREE.