TORONTO After nearly two decades of hearing "don't ask, don't tell," gay U.S. military men and women are now hearing, "do ask, do tell," and even, "find a friend" from a new social network website, Out Military.
Launched just over a week ago at outmilitary.com, the site comes on the heels of President Barack Obama signing a new law repealing the so-called "don't ask, don't tell" rule, established in 1993, that prevented gay men and lesbians from openly serving in the armed forces.
To date, Out Military -- a sort of Facebook for gay and lesbian military men and women -- has only 53 members, but its backers think that will change in the months ahead as the law's repeal takes effect.
Currently, the U.S. military is drafting rules to implement the new policy, and a specific date for implementation has not been set. Even so, some members say they aren't waiting and do not fear the possibility of losing their military job.
"It gives people a social platform to communicate," Kristin Orta, a private first-class serving with the Florida National Guard, said about the site, which she joined last week after seeing an ad on Facebook.
Orta, who enlisted in August, said joining the military during the U.S. congressional debate on repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," was a coincidence. She called the repeal a step in the right direction of allowing members to serve openly.
Another Out Military member, Vietnam veteran Bill Royal, claimed he was the victim of sexual abuse during his time in the military and said he hoped the site would help others suffering the same experience.
"I joined, more than anything, so that I could maybe help someone else," explained Royal.
Out Military creator and web designer John McKinnon said he built the site to support others who may be looking for friends or for a network of gay and lesbian service members and supporters.
"I think a social networking site specifically for that niche of gay and lesbian service members is a natural fit," McKinnon said.
Based in Bangor, Maine, McKinnon had been following the "don't ask, don't tell" debate since former President Bill Clinton created the policy. He dreamed up the social networking website when the debate was resurrected in recent months.
He is, of course, encouraging people to join, but while some military members like Orta do not fear being outed, McKinnon discourages posting revealing information before the repeal comes into effect.
"(The site) might be just a little bit early, but it's not too early to join," he said.
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)