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Area gays view historic vote as a step forward

Rick Olson of Buffalo had served in the Army for two years, including four months as a translator with a top-secret security clearance, when his superiors pressured him to quit.

It happened in the 1960s, long before the "don't ask, don't tell" era, when military commanders initiated investigations into who was gay.

Olson had met another translator, a man in the Air Force, at Fort Meade, Md.

"We ended up having a relationship," he said. "With a little digging [from a superior] it came out I was seeing someone of the same gender."

Nineteen years old at the time, "they gave me two choices with three possible outcomes," Olson said. "I could take a discharge and go home, or I could fight the charges through a court-martial. If I lost, I'd get a dishonorable discharge and go home. If I won, I could stay in the service, but lose my security clearance and be assigned to the infantry."

He took the discharge, and only a decade later would his exit be deemed honorable.

So, Saturday's congressional vote, ending the "don't ask, don't tell" policy barring gays from openly serving in the military, struck Olson, now 65, more personally than most others.

"The fact gay people can serve openly is great," he said. "I don't think who you go to bed with is anybody's business but yours and the other person involved."

Olson said the Army wasted his talent.

"They spent thousands to train me and then threw me away," he said.

Kitty Lambert, vice president for Stonewall Democrats of Western New York, called Saturday's vote a big step forward for the country.

"This is about families," she said.

A grave injustice has been done to the gay men and women who have served, said Paul Morgan, a member of and organizer for OUTspoken for Equality.

"Their service has been invisible," Morgan said.

"If you serve your country within the rules of the military, and you do the job you're supposed to do, nothing else should matter," he added.

e-mail: plakamp@buffnews.com

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