Spokane nurse Margaret Witt had a huge surprise when she got off a flight for a quick trip to Seattle on Tuesday morning. She turned on her cell phone and found an e-mail invitation from the White House.
Was she available to attend President Barack Obama’s signing of the law eliminating “don’t ask, don’t tell” on Wednesday? Please reply by 11 a.m. Eastern.
She looked at her watch. It was 8:02 a.m. Pacific, or two minutes past the deadline. “Oh, no. Am I too late?” she wondered.
Witt is the decorated officer discharged from the Air Force Reserves in 2006 under the law that barred openly gay service members; she was ordered reinstated this fall by a federal judge in what could have been the death knell for the 1993 law if the ruling survived appeal. She was supposed to meet with her attorneys Tuesday, but the attorneys could wait.
Witt quickly wrote that she’d be honored to attend if the invitation was still open. Yes, replied the White House. Please come.
She ran from the end of SeaTac’s Concourse C to the end of Concourse D, where a plane was in final boarding for Washington’s National Airport. She showed the person at the gate the e-mail from the White House, and asked if there was any chance she could get on the flight. She got the last seat. From Spokane, her partner, Laurie McChesney, arranged for a hotel room before Witt landed.
Tuesday evening, she was in Washington, D.C., thankful she had packed an extra outfit for what was supposed to be just a day trip to Seattle.
“I’m so, so honored,” Witt said in a phone interview from her hotel room. “I just wanted to be there to represent all those who are out there doing their job, who can’t be there.”
At 6 a.m. today Pacific time, she’ll join Lt. Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, another Washington state nurse ousted then reinstated under don’t ask, don’t tell, Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, a decorated fighter pilot who is facing discharge, and others for the signing of the law that cleared the Senate over the weekend.
Tuesday night, she marveled at how much has changed for her and other gay and lesbian members of the military over the past year. Last December, she was gearing up for a trial nine months away, gay service members were still being discharged, and although Obama had campaigned on repealing the law, legislation to do that had bogged down in Congress.
“I had faith in what President Obama said, but you’ve got to take everything day by day,” Witt said. “I’m so thankful for the vote, and I’m proud of the Senate, proud of the House.”