2nd Lt. Sandy Tsao photo by Donna
President Barack Obama sent a hand-written note in response to a Chicago-area lesbian's plea for him to change the military's ban on openly gay and lesbian servicemembers. She sent her letter to Obama just six days after his inauguration, and it was published in the Feb. 11 Windy City Times as a cover story.
Tsao said she is "very hopeful" after receiving the letter May 5. "I believe he is a man of his word. … My heart is bounding with joy." The timing is bittersweet: Tsao's last day in the service will be May 19, 2009.
Obama's note reads: "Thanks for your wonderful and thoughtful letter. It is because of outstanding Americans like you that I committed to changing our current policy. Although it will take some time to complete ( partly because it needs Congressional action ) I intend to fulfill my commitment!" It is signed Barack Obama. Windy City Times has contacted the White House but has not had word back confirming the letter's veracity.
The Rachel Maddow Show picked up the story May 7, as did other media and blogs the next day. Tsao, however, told WCT she does not want to do additional media, because she wants to focus on studying for her engineering degree. She did also share the letter with GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
In her Jan. 26 letter to President Barack Obama, 2nd Lt. Sandy Tsao, 24, came out as a lesbian in the U.S. Army. The former resident of Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood wrote a fellow former South Sider in his new White House home to tell him she could no longer serve her country because she is a lesbian.
Sunday, Feb. 8, marked the one-year anniversary of Tsao's active duty, full-time service to her country. On May 19, Tsao expects to receive an Article 15 honorable discharge because of homosexual conduct.
Tsao was told by her chain of command that her letter was received by Obama's White House. It was her own choice to come out. In early February, she wrote to Windy City Times that she had "finished my full medical examination and have finished my last session with my counselor. My counselor has signed an evaluation form that confirms that I am in a healthy mental state."
"Originally I planned to leave quietly and reenlist in the Marines if the policy changed, but I was getting so lonely and tired of people cracking gay jokes and not being able to talk to my friend because of the policy," Tsao wrote. "I was getting so fed up that I finally decided to tell the truth." Tsao plans to return to finish an engineering degree.
Tsao's original letter to President Obama reads:
"I am a Second Lieutenant currently serving in the United States Army. In addition to being an officer, I am a Christian, a woman and a Chinese-American. I am proud of all these identities. Lastly, I am also a homosexual. On December 21, 2007, I was appointed as an army officer. In the oath of office I swore that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Unfortunately, I will not be able to fulfill this oath because the current policy regarding sexual orientation contradicts my values as a moral human being.
"Today is Chinese New Year day. I hope it will bring good fortune to you and your newly elected office. Today is also the day I inform my chain of command of who I am. One of the 7 army values is integrity. It means choosing to do the right thing no matter what the consequences may be. As a Christian, this also means living an honest life. I cannot live up to this value unless my workplace 'provides an environment free of unlawful discrimination and offensive behavior'. [ Excerpt from the U.S. Army's Equal Opportunity Branch ( EO ) Mission Statement. ]
"We have the best military in the world and I would like to continue to be part of it. My mother can tell you it is my dream to serve our country. I have fought and overcome many barriers to arrive at the point I am at today. This is the only battle I fear I may lose. Even if it is too late for me, I do hope, Mr. President, that you will help us to win the war against prejudice so that future generations will continue to work together and fight for our freedoms regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin or sexual orientation.
"Respectfully, Sandy Tsao, 2LT, MP."
Tsao grew up on Chicago's Southwest Side, in Bridgeport. She graduated from Whitney M. Young Magnet High School and received her bachelor's in communication from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2007.
Tsao's parents are both Chinese. Her mother is from Hong Kong and her father is from Burma ( Myanmar ) . Tsao is a first-generation American. Her father's younger brother served in the Army as an enlisted solder. If the ban were to be lifted, Tsao told WCT in February that she would like to have a career in the military.
"The President has given us hope for change," she said May 6. "Now it is up to us, our loved ones, families and friends to have faith in his word and the love of humanity as we hold hands and pray together for a new world."