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Openly Gay Bay Area Service Member Offers Stern Warning To Other Gays In Military

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Former U.S. Navy Commander Zoe Dunning looks on at President Barack Obama’s signing of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Former U.S. Navy Commander Zoe Dunning looks on at President Barack Obama’s signing of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — Don’t come out of the closet just yet. That’s the message from the San Francisco woman who, for years, was the only openly gay person in the U.S. military.

Retired Navy Commander Zoe Dunning was there when President Obama signed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“I was humbled and incredibly honored to be there on such a historic occasion because it truly was a historic day for all of America, not just for gays and lesbians in the military,” she said.

KCBS’ Doug Sovern Reports:

Dunning was invited to the ceremony because she was one of the first to come out when the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell compromise was crafted in 1993.

She won her discharge trial and was allowed to serve openly as a lesbian, until she retired three years ago. But she cautions the gay and lesbian soldiers and sailors still in the closet to stay there, at least for a few more months.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is still in effect because in that law, it states that you have to get certification from the president, secretary of defense and the chairman of the joint chiefs,” said Dunning. “After that, there’s a sixty day waiting period. So we still have to go through those administrative steps before we truly have open service.”

Dunning said she won assurances from the president and the chairman of the joint chiefs that they will expedite the implementation of the repeal.

“It’s just a sense of relief. The 800 pound gorilla has been removed from the room and people know that eventually, if they just do their job and continue to perform, they’re not going to lose it just because of their sexual orientation,” she said.

Dunning co-chairs the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and said its victory over Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell sends a powerful message.

“If you truly feel like you’re on the right side of justice and you feel like you’re passionate about your issue, you have to struggle through the low points and stick to it and there’s someday where you will succeed,” Dunning said.

Dunning was invited to stand alongside President Obama as he signed the repeal of the law barring openly gay servicemembers and honored for her contribution to the campaign.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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