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There's good news and bad news

by Denny Meyer

Since 2005, when the bill to repeal the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy was first introduced in Congress by Massachusetts Representative Marty Meehan, there has been an unending roller coaster ride of elation and profound disappointment for those American patriots who believe in the right to serve.  The battle to Lift the Ban on open service has been going on since the day the law was signed by President Clinton.  The first national organization to be formed to fight the ban was American Veterans For Equal Rights AVER (first named Gay Lesbian Bisexual Veterans of America) composed of actual LGBT veterans who had served in our armed forces from WWII thru Vietnam, at that time.  Later came SLDN, and nearly two dozen other service and advocacy groups (many of which are listed on our LINKS page.)  Under the prior Presidential administration, the introduction of the repeal bill was essentially symbolic; there was no possibility of avoiding a veto nor even of gaining enough votes in Congress.

In 2005, those leading the repeal movement were thrilled if we were able to get mention of our issue in one or two weekly gay newspapers once every three months or so.  The good news is that now hardly a day passes without major mainstream media news and commentary on 'Gays in the Military,' and most of it is positively oriented towards affirmation.  The bad news is that despite the election of a President who promised to repeal DADT and a majority in Congress who were swept in with him, the tail is still wagging the dog.  That is, there is fear and trepidation to tread even a step towards progress.  They gasp and break out in a sweat every time the very loud but small minority of opponents shriek hysterical bigoted baloney at the news media.  Do we have to elect the first Black American President to convince Congress that the American people really are sick of being told to go broke for bigotry and actually want progress on equality?  But wait, we DID THAT didn't we!

That was the highest moment of our elation; the night the President was elected with a majority in both houses of Congress.  It was not just our movement that sighed and sang "At Last" as the President Elect and First Lady to be Michelle Obama danced  in triumph before our eyes.  It was not just minorities, nor just Americans; people around the world shared that moment of incredible hope.

The good news started to roll in 2006 when a Zogby poll indicated that some two thirds of Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans could care less if the soldier next to them was gay or straight.  In January of 2007 General Shalikashvili, a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced in The New York Times that he now supported gay and lesbian service members serving openly in our armed forces.  Eleven months later, twenty eight retired flag officers (later increased to 100) signed a statement advocating the repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy.  And in 2008, Presidential candidate Barack Obama campaigned with a platform that included the repeal of DADT.  In July of 2008 the US House of Representatives' Military Personnel Subcommittee held the first Congressional hearing on DADT since the early 1990s.  Since the start of his second term, in 2009, Congressman Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania began spearheading the repeal effort in the House of Representatives; and Senator Gillibrand of New York has been doing the same in the Senate where, through her efforts, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing early in 2010.  The latest word is that DADT repeal will be included in an amendment to the 2011 Defense Authorization bill next year.

There have been court cases regarding service members dismissed, due to DADT, that have progressed beyond being rejected outright in deference to the military's prerogative.  And several sterling members of our armed forces, such as LT Dan Choi, have come out publicly and received significant and positive media and public attention. 

Earlier this year the Secretary of Defense spoke about exploring more humane ways of interpreting DADT by, for example, considering not discharging those who have been outed by others.  Oh, so its ok to serve openly; you only get kicked out as punishment for speaking the truth about yourself?  There's also been consideration for allowing openly serving gay personnel in certain critical or selective jobs.  Really?  Exactly what stereotyped positions are we talking about?  Surely we are not talking about intelligence analysts, cryptologists, or linguists, are we?  We can't possibly be talking about the first American Marine (Eric Alva) to be injured in Iraq in 2003, who got his leg blown off in combat, can we? 

The dark curtain of bigotry has seemed to be slowly rising on a new day of wise enlightenment.  And yet, every step of the way, the bitter opposition has screeched bloody murder to the media.  The flag officers' advocacy was countered with a signed statement by 1000 officers against open service; although it turned out that some of the signers were deceased and others had not agreed to participate.  The same old arguments that were told to Truman, when he integrated Black Americans into our armed forces by executive order in 1948, are repeated over and over.

And in response, some members of Congress hesitate presumably in fear of not getting reelected.  How convenient!  If every American patriotic volunteer hesitated about enlisting or reenlisting because of what might happen, where would we be?  Today's volunteers know that they will be deployed to a war zone, there's no maybe about it; and they know they may be sacrificing their lives.  It takes courage. Today's LGBT volunteers know that they are sacrificing their freedom to be who they are, there's no maybe about it; and they know they may suffer discrimination without being able to do anything about it; but they volunteer just the same because they are determined to serve their country.  It takes courage. Members of Congress should be expected to do nothing less.  Courage!

  2009 Gay Military Signal