SF veteran joins Obama as he signs law to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

A bill allowing openly gay people to serve in the military was signed into law by President Barack Obama Wednesday, and a military veteran from San Francisco was one of the people invited to Washington to join the president in celebrating the new legislation.

The bill to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives a week ago and approved by the Senate on Saturday.

Zoe Dunning, a former Navy commander and co-chair of the board of directors for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, cheered from San Francisco as the Senate passed the legislation this weekend, then got an invitation on Monday to join Obama in Washington for the signing of the bill.

Dunning, who served in active duty for six years and for another 16 in the reserves, 13 of which she spent as an open lesbian, has worked on repealing the policy for nearly two decades and was overjoyed to receive the invitation from the White House.

“It was thrilling, it really was,” she said. “I’m very humbled and honored after working on this issue for so many years.”

She flew out from San Francisco to Washington on Monday night and was standing by Obama’s right shoulder when he signed the bill into law Wednesday morning.

After advocating for the legislation for so long, Dunning made sure the president spelled his name right when he signed it.

“When he was signing his name, he got to the ‘R’ in Barack, and I said ‘Make sure you spell it right,’” she said. “He laughed, Speaker Pelosi laughed, it was a great moment.”

The law will not go into effect for at least a couple of months. Obama also has to certify, along with the Secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that repealing the policy would not hinder the troops.

Once all those signatures are in place, there will be a 60-day waiting period until the repeal can go into effect.

Obama said in his speech prior to signing the bill that he and the military leadership “are all committed to implementing this change swiftly and efficiently. We are not going to be dragging our feet to get this done.”

Dunning said after talking to some of the military leadership, including Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that she is “confident it’s not going to be slow-rolled…they’ll do it as fast as they can do it conscientiously.”

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