The Rachel Maddow Show | February 11, 2013
>>> okay. check out this picture. this picture was taken december 21st , 2010 . that's then house speaker nancy pelosi signing a bill that was passed by the house so it can be officially sent to the president's desk to become law. did you know that speaker of the house has to sign every bill passed by congress before the president does? that usually does not happen in a big public ceremony, but this time it did. because what nancy pelosi is signing there is the official repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." on the far right of the picture you can see democratic senator barbara boxer of california. she was one of the chief proponents of repeal in the u.s. senate . on the far left of the picture, let's see, there is major mike there from the air force , and who is the hairless guy? ah, the gentleman smiling from ear to ear, that would be lieutenant colonel victor farengach. he has been a guest on this show. the colonel came out nationally on this show in may 2009 , a year before the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal was signed into law. at that time, colonel faa arenbach was being informed he was being discharged from the military for being gay. he had extensive combat experience. he was two years short of his retirement, but the u.s. launched and investigation into his personal life . they determined he was gay and went out about kicking him out. vic he fought that charge. he filed a lawsuit claiming it was unconstitutional. and the moral urgency of stories like his ultimately resulted in "don't ask, don't tell" being repealed. more than a year after appearing on this program, victor stood alongside house speaker nancy pelosi as she sent that repeal on to president obama . and then nine months later, after a year's long struggle, victor farrenbach officially retired from the air force with the full military benefits that he earned. since his retirement he has started grad school , and just very recently he has started a new job at the u.s. state department . he is also now the author of a brand-new book about his journey, which is called "out of the blue". we have a link posted of at our website today. it was from victor yesterday morning that i first learned that his friend and his fellow combatant in the fight for equality had died from the breast cancer yesterday that she had fought so long. she lived long enough to see the end of "don't ask, don't tell," but not long enough to see the end the defense of marriage act . and that law bans her wife, now her widow from receiving the same benefits that other military families would receive in such a sad circumstance. retired air force lieutenant victor fehrenbach joins us tonight for the interview. thank you for being here.
>> thanks for having me, rachel.
>> i know you were good friends with charlie , who died yesterday. how would you describe her role, what she was fighting for alongside you?
>> well, we met just over a year ago right about the time that you talked about where she met with john boehner 's staff and frankly enough, she told me a story that while she was deployed in kuwait, she sat and she watched you and i at this table telling my story. and she told me that thank you, by the way, for letting me tell my story, because she said it inspired her. she said when "don't ask, don't tell" is repealed, she'll come out and tell her story about her family and her fight and her struggles. and i think she made a huge difference.
>> she did come out the dedais of repeal.
>> she herself got on television for the first time ever.
>> i think her story, you know, made a big difference in changing hearts and minds . i know people, no matter what their religious affiliation or their political affiliation were, when i told charlie 's story to them, they just said that's not right. and it changed their minds. and so she made a huge impact. i know i was heartbroken yesterday. not just because she died. we all knew she was dying. but we wanted her to live to see march, to see the supreme court take up doma , to live until june to see doma finally overturned by the supreme court . that wasn't meant to be. and now, you know, you saw in the video one of her greatest fears was she would die and her wife karen and her daughter casey elena would not be cared for. so i think some of the steps that we saw secretary panetta take today, those are going to help thousand of people. they'll be enabled in the summertime. but it wasn't in time to help charlie 's family.
>> and they've gone as far as they can, but the main benefits, things like, you know, on-base housing and the kinds of benefits that would make a lifetime of difference to charlie 's child and to her wife.
>> those benefits, the pentagon no matter how much they want to, they can't do those things.
>> because they are precluded by law because of doma .
>> and secretary panetta and the president, they did all they could under the law. and that's what a lot of people don't understand. here is another story charlie told me. she said when she was doing her live interview, she also went to see her then congressman from new hampshire . and she told her story. and the congressman said oh, but you're okay. you live in new hampshire . you're legally married in new hampshire . that's legal. so you're taken care of. so her congressman didn't even know that her wife was treated as a second class citizen and didn't enjoy the benefits that other military families enjoyed. so if the congressman didn't know, you know, the american public has no idea. so we need to continue telling charlie 's story.
>> the reason that i wanted to play that particular clip of her lobbying gene shaheen there, gene shaheen obviously somebody who has been very supportive of her. but you see when she tells gene shaheen her diagnosis, and the senator responds by saying i'm so sorry, i'm so sorry to hear about this. and you can see charlie essentially being like yeah, i know you're sorry. i don't need you to be sorry. i need you to go fast there is some urgency here there.
>> looking ahead to the state of the union is tomorrow. this is the president who repealed "don't ask, don't tell." the outgoing secretary ended the end of women in combat , overpeeled "don't ask, don't tell," took all these actions on previously taboo subjects like sexual assault in the military there is this sense that things are moving fast. what do you think given your experience both in the military and as an advocate is the way to make the motion go faster?
>> just what i did, just what your other guests did, just our stories. you know, i wrote an article in "the huffington post ," as well, we see change, in the british parliament , an overwhelming vote. we saw the supreme court decision in new mexico. we have seen the changes that were announced today -- the changes are happening faster. but we could all sit idly back and watch the clock tick away, or we can do something about it. stand up, tell our stories and vote. we can vote, things like that, one thing standing in our way as you mentioned, speaker john boehner is defending doma as wasting taxpayer dollars. as we speak, we can vote, make changes in the house and the law if the supreme court doesn't overturn it. i think it will, but i think more of us need to come forward and tell stories because that is the way to change hearts and minds .
>> didn't you grow up right near his district?
>> yeah, he is my congressman.
>> he doesn't want to talk about this either.
>> i would love to see the president mention charlie 's name with the speaker over his shoulder, because you know, he sent the staff to speak with charlie but didn't do it himself. maybe if the president mentions her story maybe that will change his mind, as well.
>> speaker boehner if you would like to get in touch with retired air force lieutenant colonel victor fehrenbach, i have their numbers. even though i'm not supposed to give them