US

Barack Obama leads tributes to Harry Reid, the Democrat who fought to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Lily Wakefield December 30, 2021
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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks during a news conference on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks during a news conference on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. (Getty/ Chip Somodevilla)

Harry Reid, the former US Senate majority leader who pushed through repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, has died aged 82.

The Democratic Nevada senator was Senate majority leader from 2007 to 2015, during Barack Obama’s presidency, and throughout that time was determined to advance LGBT+ rights.

Reid led the charge in repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell“, which banned queer people from openly serving in the US armed forces.

According to LGBTQ Nation, Reid made a promise to Dan Choi, a gay Iraq veteran who was discharged under the policy, that he would ensure it was repealed.

Choi gave Reid his military academy class ring, on the understanding that he would return it once he had followed through on his promise.

In 2010, the day after Obama signed the repeal into law, Reid invited Choi back to his office to return his ring. Choi said at the time: “The next time I get a ring from a man, I expect it to be for full, equal, American marriage.”

Harry Reid was an anomaly in US politics, as a Mormon Democrat who backed LGBT+ rights

Harry Reid’s views on LGBT+ rights appeared to be at odds with his religion, and as a Mormon he acknowledged that his faith taught that marriage could only be between a man and a woman.

However, he was clear that personal religious beliefs should never have an impact on the rights of others.

Speaking in support of same-sex marriage in 2012, he said: “In a civil society, I believe that people should be able to marry whomever they want, and it’s no business of mine if two men or two women want to get married.

“The idea that allowing two loving, committed people to marry would have any impact on my life, or on my family’s life, always struck me as absurd.”

Reid was also instrumental in pushing, ultimately unsuccessfully, for the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would have protected people from employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

He said in 2013: “My niece is a lesbian. She’s a school teacher. Her employment shouldn’t be affected with that. We should have a law that says that, not just the good graces of wherever you work.”

Tributes to Reid flooded in on social media, with former president Barack Obama sharing a note he wrote to his former colleague after hearing his health was worsening.

He wrote: “Here’s what I want you to know. You were a great leader in the senate, and early on you were more generous to me than I had any right to expect.

“I wouldn’t have been president had it not been for your encouragement and support, and I wouldn’t have got most of what I got done without your skill and determination.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez added: “Sometimes, in a quiet or difficult moment, Harry Reid would reach out. It was like he knew.

“His counsel, encouragement, kindness, and generosity was so deeply moving. It was sincere. And I will never forget it.”

More: Don't Ask Don't Tell

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