Dear Mr. President: Chicago Soldier Fights Military Ban

by Tracy Baim
Thursday Feb 12, 2009

She wasn't asked. But she did tell.

In a Jan. 26 letter to President Barack Obama, 2nd Lt. Sandy Tsao, 24, came out as a lesbian in the United States 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. She is in the regular army, based in Fort Leonard, Mo. Within the next few months, Tsao expects to receive an Article 15 honorable discharge because of homosexual conduct. Despite Obama's claims as a Senator and now U.S. President that he opposes the military's ban, he has now said he will delay work on the topic while it is further studied, despite the fact that dozens of studies have been conducted since Don't Ask, Don't Tell was implemented by President Bill Clinton in the early days of his administration.

These studies predominantly show support of lifting the ban, from both enlisted soldiers and officers. The experience of other nations also shows that the implementation of open service by gay and lesbian people has generally been a non-event.

When Clinton came into office, he tried to remove the existing military gay ban, but faltered quickly and implemented a policy that has been responsible for ruining more than 12,500 lives and which has robbed the military of untold numbers of skilled people, including translators. It no doubt scared away others who wanted to serve. In the early days of his administration, Clinton also experienced the coming out of valuable military personnel, including Soldier of the Year Jose Zuniga, who was kicked out as a result of his speaking out. He now lives in Chicago and works on efforts to overturn Clinton's Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue policy.

Tsao was told by her chain of command that her letter was received by Obama's White House. It was her own free choice to come out. In early February, she wrote to Windy City Times that she had "finished my full medication 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 Chicago to finish an engineering degree.

Tsao's letter to President Brack Obama is dated Jan. 26, 2009. It 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, home of many former Chicago mayors, and the place Mayor Richard M. Daley was raised. 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.

Finally, Tsao does not blame her commanders for simply following the law; she said they have no choice. If the ban were to be lifted, she would like to have a career in the military.

Copyright Windy City Times. For more articles from Chicago's largest GLBT newspaper, visit


  • , 2009-05-09 09:37:06

    Although I believe that it is time to change the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy, as long as the policy remains, what Sandy Tsao did is still against the current military regulation. Her commending officer did nothing wrong. By sending her a hand-written letter promising to appeal her case, Obama is setting a very bad example to our legal system and to our military. It seems that you are telling our soldiers that they can ignore the orders if they feel like it. Yes, we should not discriminate homosexuals, but it doesn’t mean that we should give them preferential treatment. More importantly, we should not sacrifice our law and order for political gains.

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