GREENWICH VILLAGE — For the first time in nine years, Air Force pilot Mike Rattigan doesn't need to pretend he has a girlfriend.
To celebrate Tuesday's repeal of the military's 18-year ban on LGBT people serving openly, service members, ex-service members and their supporters gathered at The Stonewall Inn on Tuesday night.
Rattigan, a 31-year-old Brooklyn resident, said he felt relieved to be able to drop the stories about fake girlfriends he felt forced to tell colleagues.
"For years, it's been like, 'Where did you meet her?' 'Oh, at a bar.' 'What does she do?' 'Oh, she's a lawyer,'" he said.
"I feel like an Oscar winner for the acting I do pretending to be someone else," Rattigan said. "I will not have to pretend anymore."
"Our work is far from done, but today we pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of our patriots as we look forward to a new era of military service — one that honors the contributions of all qualified Americans who have served or who wish to serve," SLDN executive director Aubrey Sarvis said in a prepared statement.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn also feted the end of the policy.
"The end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in our nation’s military sends a simple, but powerful message that we all deserve respect, regardless of who we love," she said in a prepared statement.
Sue Fulton, a former Army captain and the executive director of Knights Out, the LGBT organization of West Point alumni, said the end of DADT represented years of hard work by gay people and their advocates.
"This day is the culmination of the sacrifices of so many people. It's really overwhelming," she said.
Fulton, who left the military by choice in 1986, said she estimates that the number of people deterred from joining the military by DADT far surpasses the estimated 14,500 service members who have been fired under the law since 1993.
"That's just a fraction of those who would have made the Army a career if not for Don't Ask Don't Tell," she said.