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Former Army Sgt. Tracey L Cooper-Harris

We are entering the final days of command under Sec Gates. The certification of DADT’s repeal is practically sitting at his desk, and I know more than a few of my brothers in arms who are anxiously waiting for him to sign it.  If it doesn’t come before he leaves office on 30 June, I know all of us would appreciate the incoming Secretary, Leon Panetta, certifying as quickly as possible.

Over the past few weeks, I have received emails from fellow troops serving in silence, which has made me think about why I joined the fight against DADT in the first place. If I were to point to a single person it would be former Army Sgt. Tracey L. Cooper-Harris. Of the dozens of first-hand accounts I’ve read of troops serving under DADT, hers is the hardest to read. When she was found to be a lesbian by a few of her co-workers, they blackmailed her to perform sexual favors for them in exchange for the honor of continuing to serve her country. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” provided a framework that allowed her to be systematically raped.

“I had a choice: report these men for “sexual harassment/cohesion” and end my military career or submit to their demands. Despite the military’s “zero tolerance” policy on sexual harassment, it doesn’t apply to those forced in the closet under DADT. I was sexually blackmailed and just a teenager.”

Her story struck a chord within me, as I once received a similar ultimatum. It was one of the most stressful times during my senior year of college when a fellow student found out about me and tried to blackmail me for sexual favors and even started stalking me via Facebook.

I refused to humor him, but he continued to persist. He became so obsessed that I received a message from him saying he would report me to my commander if I didn’t do as he said. I was alone and had nobody to turn to in order to ask for help. My heart raced. “This guy is a god-damned terrorist” is all I could think of. That very thought reminded me of how our government and military deal with terrorists, and I refused to let myself be his victim.

I don’t recall the exact words I used to talk him down. All I know is I was scared, and I am lucky to have called his bluff. After giving excuses saying I was constantly busy and that he had nothing to gain by reporting me, the harassment stopped.

For months my heart raced every time my phone rang, or I got a message saying my commander wanted to speak with me. In every instance, I assumed I had been reported and my dream of becoming a pilot was about to be crushed.

It took a while after reading Sgt. Cooper-Harris’ story for me to muster the courage to speak out. It was a slow process, but I finally contacted the Servicemember’s Legal Defense Network (SLDN). SLDN is an organization that offers free legal services for troops affected by DADT and has worked in the realm of political advocacy to get the policy reversed for over a decade. Following repeal, they will continue these services and fight to ensure full LGBT equality in the military, as repeal itself doesn’t fully accomplish that… But I’ll write more on that later.

It’s a shame it took me so long to get involved, but in the end I am glad I did. The longer DADT exists, the longer atrocities like this will continue to occur. Sgt Cooper-Harris’ story trumps any possible argument in favor of keeping this policy on the books. Even if it’s logistically difficult to overcome, rape can not be allowed, and its victims should never be silenced. I am lucky to have escaped such a horrific cycle, but there are others who have not. The sooner repeal is certified, the sooner this behavior will be stopped.

– Officer X is a young, gay military officer who is currently serving on active duty despite the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on open service. He is a pilot and regularly flies throughout the world both in and out of combat. His views are his alone and do not reflect the opinions of the U.S. military, its branches, or any organization. Follow him on Twitter @TIMEOfficerX or email him