Lesbian Air Force nurse plans return to duty next month

By Laura L. Myers

SEATTLE (BestGrowthStock) – The flight nurse who won reinstatement to the Air Force in a landmark court challenge of her expulsion for revealing she is a lesbian said on Tuesday she plans to return to duty in the reserves late next month.

Major Margaret Witt, 46, said she intends to complete the annual requirement of 180 nursing hours before in time to rejoin the 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at McChord Air Force Base by the third weekend of December.

Witt’s news conference to announce her plans coincided with the release of a long-awaited Defense Department study concluding that the Pentagon’s ban on openly gay men and lesbians in uniform could be repealed immediately with little risk to military readiness.

The American Civil Liberties Union says that when Witt returns to duty she will become the first openly gay person to serve in the military due to a court order under the so-called “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

For now, Witt has been working two jobs — as a rehabilitation coordinator for military veterans in Spokane, Washington, and as a volunteer registered nurse there. She also expects to soon earn a post-graduate certificate in nursing case management.

“I’m really looking forward to flying,” Witt told reporters. “I served for two decades, and suddenly, I was considered unacceptable. All I ever wanted to do was to be there for my troops.”

She added: “I hope I’ll soon be known as just a flight nurse and not a lesbian flight nurse.”

Witt spoke at the Seattle offices of the ACLU, which represented the decorated officer in a lawsuit contesting her discharge from the Air Force under “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

That policy, enacted into law 17 years ago during the Clinton administration, allows gays to serve in the military so long as they keep their sexual orientation private. Those whose homosexuality is revealed face discharge.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton ruled in September that Witt’s 2007 Air Force discharge violated her substantive due process rights under the U.S. Constitution and ordered her restored to her position.

Leighton also ruled that the application of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in Witt’s case did “not significantly further the government’s interest in promoting military readiness, unit morale and cohesion.”

In an unusual turn of events, the government a week ago petitioned the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse Leighton’s ruling even though President Barack Obama himself wants to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Still, the Obama administration declined to seek a stay of Leighton’s order while that case is under review, allowing Witt’s reinstatement to proceed.

Obama insists he stands by his 2008 campaign pledge to end “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but his administration argues that Congress rather than the courts should repeal the ban, once the military is better prepared for the transition.

In the meantime, Witt said, there are an estimated 65,000 gay men and women serving in the military now “forced to lie and feel ashamed.”

(Writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Greg McCune)

Lesbian Air Force nurse plans return to duty next month