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Chicago veteran of Don't Ask, Don't Tell reenters military in wake of repeal
by Erica Demarest

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Discharged veteran Lee Reinhart made history Oct. 24 when he became the first known openly gay man in Illinois to reenlist in the U.S. Armed Forces since the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."

"We should be proud of Lee and proud of our country," said Rep. Mike Quigley ( D-Ill. ) , who administered Reinhart's reenlistment oath. "Dr. King had it right: 'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.' This is our country getting it right."

Reinhart served in the U.S. Navy from 1995 to 1999. After Sept. 11, he enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard but was quickly discharged under "don't ask, don't tell." Reinhart spent the next decade working with Quigley and fellow activists to achieve repeal.

"My earliest memories of him are testifying in front of groups like this about why this matters, and why he wanted to serve," Quigley shared. "It was voices like yours, Lee, that helped change policy to make our country greater."

A large group of activists, politicians, military personnel, family and friends gathered in the Center on Halsted Monday morning to watch Reinhart's ceremony. Smiling ear-to-ear as he signed his paperwork, Reinhart enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserves, where he will serve one weekend a month and two weeks a year. He may also be called to active duty overseas.

After a moving rendition of "America, the Beautiful" from American Veterans for Equal Rights ( AVER ) Treasurer Travis and a brief introductory speech from Quigley, Reinhart took to the stage. He carried with him a tattered American flag.

"This is the flag that used to hang outside [ my grandparents' ] home," Reinhart said, "and this is the flag I used to march around with [ when I visited them as a child ] . So the love of the country has been there since I can remember, and I wanted to make sure this was here with me today."

Reinhart thanked his grandmother, mother and siblings, who had all driven to Chicago that morning to be with him, and shared that his grandmother wrote him letters almost every day while he was in the Navy. Reinhart said he still owns most of those notes.

He closed his remarks with a dream for the future.

"The most important thing about this day for me, is that my nieces and my nephew will grow up and hopefully realize their uncle had a small part of this history-making part of their country," Reinhart said. "I want them to know when they read the history books that their uncle had a part in that."

Illinois Reps. Deb Mell ( D-40 ) and Greg Harris ( D-13 ) attended the ceremony, as did several active naval officers. Among them: Reinhart's former shipmate Chief Warrant Officer Mike Landry, who talked with Windy City Times about post-"don't ask, don't tell" integration.

"This is really a nonissue for the military now," Landry said. "Right wing politicians have made it a big deal, but it really has been nothing to the military. I haven't heard any of the senior chain of command flinch at it. I haven't heard anybody from the younger troops complain about it."

Center on Halsted CEO Modesto Tico Valle and Chicago chapter of American Veterans for Equal Rights ( AVER ) President Jim Darby offered opening remarks. Audience members included representatives from the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Illinois.

To learn more about Reinhart's incredible story, check out:

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