Friday, September 29, 2017

Spokane Air Force major whose case helped end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" shares her story Tuesday

Posted By on Fri, Sep 29, 2017 at 12:55 PM

It's been six years since Major Margie (with a hard "g" as in "You go, girl") Witt's arduous battle to keep serving with the military came to a close.

After she was discharged for being in a relationship with another woman, the Air Force flight nurse, who lived in Spokane for years while serving as a reservist on McChord Air Force Base near Tacoma, became the face of one of the most important cases leading to the repeal of the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

Witt and her now-wife Laurie Johnson's story is laid out in the pages of Tell: Love, Defiance, and the Military Trial at the Tipping Point for Gay Rights, co-written by investigative journalist Tim Connor.

Witt and Connor will launch the book right here in Spokane, at Auntie's Bookstore, on Tuesday, Oct. 3, and those who pick up a copy can expect to read about plenty of familiar names and places. 

"I really wanted to launch it there as a big thank-you to my friends in the community for being so supportive of me," Witt says.

Working with Connor, Witt says she wanted to tell the story largely from the perspective of friends and others who knew her, and people who experienced the trial from the outside.

"Because that’s what mattered under Don't Ask, Don't Tell, was everybody else’s opinion of me," Witt says. "Not my performance, not what I did, but how I affected everyone else around me just by being gay."

Witt's respected time in the military came crashing down in 2004, when the ex-husband of her partner emailed the military to say that Witt had an affair with his wife before their divorce was final, and pointed out that before that, Witt had been in a relationship with another woman for years.

The military focused on the allegation that Witt was a lesbian, which her former partner verified.

Even though though she'd followed the rules of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," a 1993 Bill Clinton compromise with Congress that was ostensibly intended to end an official ban on gay service members, once the military was aware of her sexuality, policy dictated she should be discharged. DADT only protected people whose sexual orientation was hidden.

"I never thought that this part of the story would become timely again in the news," Witt says. "I’m sorry that it has. My heart absolutely goes out to the service members who happen to be transgender."

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That sparked a years-long court battle, as Witt and Johnson fought through the court system to upend the unfair policy and show that the military couldn't prove that her orientation had negatively impacted her ability to serve or the cohesiveness of her unit.

Her case created the "Witt standard," in which the military has to prove why someone who is homosexual isn't fit to serve. 

The book goes well beyond the edges of the case, giving readers a look into Witt's childhood and service, which started in the late '80s. More than that, it focuses on her loving relationship.

"One thing Tim called it is a love story masquerading as a legal thriller," Witt says.

And she agrees.

"It is a love story, but it has all the elements of life, trauma, drama," she says. "
We all need to tell our stories, because it enriches all of our lives. When we share stories, it makes the world just a little bit smaller."

After her case was over, and DADT was officially repealed in September 2011, Witt was allowed to retire with full military benefits. She now works as a rehabilitation supervisor at the Portland VA Health Care System. 

The launch of Tell comes at a time when equal rights for service members have again been called into question, as in August, President Donald Trump issued a ban on transgender military members, via tweet, reversing a year-old policy that they could serve openly.

"I never thought that this part of the story would become timely again in the news," Witt says. "I’m sorry that it has. My heart absolutely goes out to the service members who happen to be transgender."

The current administration is trying to turn back many of the things Witt's legal team worked so hard for, she says.

"Man, it just hit me in the gut when the tweet came out about transgender service members not being able to serve, after they have been allowed to serve openly in the military, after having that affirmation," she says. "And to have that coming out in a tweet? It's so demoralizing and distracting. That's the distractor."

For those folks, who had to work so hard to serve, and who need to be able to focus on their mission, changing a policy after everyone has been allowed to openly serve is what is truly at risk of causing a disruption to the military, Witt says.

"I didn't have it in a tweet, but to have somebody say you’re no longer fit for service because you have this label ... it’s so wrong, and it makes me so angry," Witt says. "It’s distressing. It just dehumanizes you."

She hopes her case and her story will help in the continued fight for equal treatment in the military.

"I’m proud to have a voice in the fight. I'm proud that what we did has made a difference in the world, especially for the military folks," Witt says. "I’m proud to have been another cog in the wheel, to bend that arc toward justice."

Margie Witt and Tim Connor will be available to sign copies of Tell: Love, Defiance, and the Military Trial at the Tipping Point for Gay Rights (ForeEdge University Press of New England; $27.95) on Tuesday, Oct. 3 at 7 pm at Auntie's, 402 W. Main (

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About The Author

Samantha Wohlfeil

Samantha Wohlfeil covers the environment, rural communities and cultural issues for the Inlander. Since joining the paper in 2017, she's reported how the weeks after getting out of prison can be deadly, how some terminally ill Eastern Washington patients have struggled to access lethal medication, and other sensitive...