Midlands advocates celebrate the end of Don TMt Ask, Don TMt Tell

COLUMBIA (WACH) -- Gays and lesbians can now serve openly in the U.S. military.

The repeal of Don TMt Ask, Don TMt Tell went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

A small crowd of equality advocates gathered at Memorial Park to celebrate the big change.

We now have a U.S. military that reflects the values it seeks to protect, said Rep. James Smith.

According to the non-profit Servicemembers Legal Defense Group (SLDN), more than 14,500 troops have been discharged since the policy was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton.

As of now, men and women will no longer be forced to hide their sexual orientation

Army veteran Hope Furtado wishes it had always been that way. She suffered the loss of close friends in the service because they chose to serve openly and were discharged.

They could of said ~no, I am not gay, TM but they were honorable and they were honest, Furtado adds.

While some gays and lesbians will never re-enlist, the repeal has motivated others to sign.

I have a friend who is serving right now and she tells me stories that despite all the training there is still resistance, says Thomas Sawicki. I understand that is something I am going to have to deal with, but I think it is going to be okay.

Sawicki enlisted in the Navy and will soon be leaving for basic training.

The United States is the 30th country to allow open military service.

The repeal does have its critics, whom argue the change could hurt U.S. military recruitment, retention and America TMs ability to fight wars. Defense officials report the concerns have been addressed.

What do you think of the repeal of Don TMt Ask, Don TMt Tell TM? Leave your comments below.