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News Brief:
Court Reinstates Lawsuit Challenging
Discharge on Grounds of Sexual Orientation

by Julianne Sohn

On May 21, 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reinstated the lawsuit challenging the dismissal of a highly decorated U.S. Air Force flight nurse on the grounds that she engaged in homosexual conduct.

 

The Court of Appeals ruled that the Air Force must prove that discharging Maj. Witt was necessary for the purposes of military readiness.  The court found that the military must prove that a service member's conduct actually hurt morale or jeopardized another government interest. 

 

"I am thrilled by the court's recognition that I can't be discharged without proving that I was harmful to morale," said Maj Witt in an ACLU press release.  "I want to serve my country.  I have loved being in the military - my fellow airmen have been my family." 

 

Major Margaret Witt, who served in the Air Force for 19 years, earned many medals and commendations.  She was  even awarded a medal by President George W. Bush for her "outstanding medical care" to injured service members and that her "outstanding aerial accomplishments reflected great credit upon herself and the United States Air Force" for her service in Oman during Operations Enduring Freedom.

 

Maj. Witt graduated from Pacific Lutheran University in 1986 and served as a flight nurse and operating room nurse assigned to McChord Air Force Base near Tacoma.  Witt was also selected to be in the Air Force Nurse Corps recruitment flyer in 1993. 

 

Despite her work and the fact that there is currently a critical shortage of flight nurses, the Air Force began an investigation into an allegation that she engaged in homosexual conduct in the summer of 2004.

 

In March 2006, the Air Force administratively discharged Maj. Witt on the grounds of homosexual conduct.  Maj. Witt took the U.S. Air Force to federal court, but the lawsuit was rejected in July 2006.  She turned to the American Civil Liberties Union to appeal the court's decision, according to Sarah Dunne, ACLU of Washington's legal director.

 

The lawsuit seeks to reverse the Air Force decision to discharge Maj. Witt.  The ACLU has submitted testimonials from her military colleagues stating that her forced dismal is harmful to the unit's morale.  

 

 "I am proud of my career and want to continue to do my job," said Maj. Witt.  "Wounded people never asked me about my sexual orientation.  They were just glad to see me there." 

 

Dunne, who joined the ACLU in October 2006, said that the ACLU has been committed to ensuring the equality of the LGBT community.   "We work on a lot of different fronts to defend civil rights," she added. 

 

James Lobsenz of Carney Badley, Aaron Caplan, former staff attorney for ACLU, and Dunne are representing Maj. Witt.   

  2008  Gay Military Signal