Frontlines: The Latest from OutServe-SLDN

Share Your Story

If you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender service member currently in Iraq, or about to be deployed to Iraq, we want to hear from you! SLDN is working with a national newsmagazine on a feature story profiling troops in the war zone, or troops preparing to deploy to the war zone. All stories will be told anonymously, and SLDN will work with the magazine's reporters and editors to carefully make sure that service members' identities are not revealed. This is an important opportunity, with a major newsmagazine, to tell the first-person stories of those fighting on the frontlines. If you are interested in participating, please contact Steve Ralls, SLDN's director of communications, at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). All inquiries will be kept strictly confidential.

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A Day of Silence

Today marks the 11th annual Day of Silence, a project of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network to draw attention to LGBT right. Last year, more than 4,000 schools, and 450,000 students, participated in the observance. One student blogger noted that, today, "willing students will partake in a nationwide act of passive resistance by taking up a vow of silence for the entire school day. No answering questionings. No speaking out in class. None. Nada. Nilch. Nyet." The Day of Silence resonates deeply for many in the U.S. military, who serve under federally sanctioned silence every day. As the Arizona State University webzine noted this morning, "The U.S. military policy of 'Don't ask, don't tell' still hinders LGBTQ servicemen from living openly." Today, as students observe the Day of Silence, many will remember, and honor, those who are serving in silence, too. - Steve Ralls
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Military Facing “Strategic Peril”

That's according to retired General Barry McCaffrey. From Reuters: "The disastrous state of the U.S. military is putting the country in strategic peril, a retired U.S. general said on the eve of a showdown between President George W. Bush and Democrats over paying for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. . . . "McCaffrey, who returned last month from a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, condemned Pentagon policies he said had left the U.S. Army too small, with its equipment in disarray and lacking a fallback position should a challenge come from somewhere like Iran, Syria or North Korea. . . . "'It is my judgment we are in a position of strategic peril that is going to take us three to five years to get out of,' McCaffrey said." One of those policies is surely "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." With 11,000 men and women dismissed (and counting), there's no denying that the loss of manpower under this law has cost our armed forces dearly. Other high-ranking military officers are on the record supporting repeal. Will General McCaffrey follow? - Steve Ralls

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Obama: Drop Military Sodomy Ban

Illinois Senator (and 2008 Democratic presidential candidate) Barack Obama has gone on the record opposing Article 125, the military's ban on sodomy. In response to a Gay City News article last week, Senator Obama's campaign now says he opposes the sodomy ban. The paper says it will publish an update to its original story, reflecting Obama's position, in its next issue, on April 19th. The Senator joins Christopher Dodd, Dennis Kucinich, Joe Biden and Mike Gravel in opposing the ban. In an earlier post, SLDN staff attorney Aaron Tax pointed out that "One unforeseen consequence of the ban is that because of the threat of consensual sodomy prosecutions hanging over service members’ heads, when two service members are alleged to have engaged in consensual sodomy, there is an incentive for at least one to cooperate with the prosecution and claim the activity was nonconsensual. As a result, it is easier to convict at least one of the parties, resulting in service members, guilty of nothing more than engaging in consensual sodomy, being sent to prison." In wake of the Supreme Court's http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_v._Texas">2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, the constitutionality of the military's ban has been in question. Senator Joe Biden's campaign has said that "the Supreme Court's clear and unmistakable view in Lawrence that the sex lives of consenting adults are a private matter... [and that should] apply to every American, both civilian and military." Gay City News reports that, as of this morning, neither the Clinton nor Edwards campaigns have responded to questions regarding those candidates' positions. - Steve Ralls

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You’ve Paid for the Sickness, Now Pay for the Cure!

It’s Tax Day again. Time to give a little to Uncle Sam for all that he has given us: schools, roads, social security, health care, national security—and discrimination. Yep, that’s right. Our hard-earned money is being used every day to discriminate against our own countrymen and women. Every day, the U.S. government fires two people for being lesbian, gay or bisexual. They do it through the only law—local, state or national—that sanctions discrimination. This law is “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and our tax-dollars pay for it—at a tune of at least $364 million since 1993. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been responsible for the discharge of more than 10,000 men and women from the Armed Services because it mandates the firing of lesbian, gay or bisexual service members. It’s a stupid law that wrecks lives, ruins careers, mocks America’s commitment to civil rights, wastes money and compromises our safety. With this law, our government makes U.S. tax payers—you and me—to pay for their discriminatory practices. Many Americans have taxes withdrawn from every paycheck and don’t think about the moral implications of how their tax dollars are spent. For the more than 900 service members who were discharged last year alone, the very taxes that were taken from their paychecks helped pay for their removal from service and the loss of that paycheck. This is unforgivable! Join me and by using your tax- refund money to fight their bigotry. Use it to support SLDN. Help us repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Help us take our fight to the Supreme Court. Help us provide free legal services to service members caught in its trap. SLDN doesn’t get a penny from the government. Not one penny. The federal government won’t fund the fight against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” But you can! SLDN has responded to each of the more than 8,000 calls for assistance—many from service members anonymously serving on the frontlines in Iraq—only because faithful Americans contribute generously in support of our work. Join them—and me—with a gift of your own. Help us counter-balance the $364 million that the government has already spent. By making a donation to SLDN, you could even reduce your tax burden next year! SLDN is a tax-exempt, 501(c)3 non-profit organization, and as such, all donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. What this could mean for you is that the more money you contribute, the fewer taxes you might have to pay—and the less money the government has to use against the more than 65,000 lesbian, gay and bisexual service members actively serving right now! Just as the government needs a steady flow of income to keep our country going, SLDN needs a steady flow of income to keep us going. Put your money to especially good use this year by choosing to help every month by joining Roll Call, our monthly giving program. With your support, SLDN will continue to offer free legal services to men and women in uniform . . . continue to work with Congress on repeal of this archaic and unfair law . . . and continue to speak out on behalf of service members silenced by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In addition to your financial support, there are other things you can do to help SLDN achieve our goal of an open and inclusive Armed Forces. You can: - Join Frontlines, SLDN’s online action center, and invite your friends, family and colleagues to do the same. - Fly both and American flag and a rainbow flag when observing national holidays like Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day. - In observance of Memorial Day, send your local Veterans Service Organization a card in memory of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members who served and sacrificed for our country. - In November, send your local Veterans Service Organization a Veterans Day card in honor of the more than 1,000,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender veterans who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. - Write a letter to the editor of your newspaper telling them that qualified lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans are denied the opportunity to serve our country at a time when the military can’t meet basic recruitment goals. Remember, no organization provides the kind of help that SLDN does—and we do it without the help of a single government dollar. - Polly Stamatopoulos

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Friendly Workplaces

Photo by J. Scott Applewhite -- Associated Press Today's Washington Post has a fascinating article on the State Department's evolution from an agency, in the 1950's, that had fired employees for "moral weaknesses" to today's agency that embraces the diversity of all its employees, including its openly gay employees. We knew that the State Department was pretty gay friendly, when just a few months ago, during the hearings on State Department's budget request for 2008, Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-NY) suggested to Secretary Condoleezza Rice that the State Department might want to hire some of the lesbian, gay, and bisexual linguists dismissed from the military under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The response was positive. The Post later reported that
"Last night, Ackerman said in an interview that, after the hearing, he received a call from an aide to Rice who said that his suggestion was being taken seriously."
Today we learn just how friendly State is. Today's article features the story of Mark Dybul, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator. He is the third openly gay ambassador at the State Department, and during his swearing-in ceremony last October, Secretary Rice acknowledged his partner, Jason Claire, and his mother-in-law, who was also present. The Post rightly points out the contrast between the State Department's policy towards its lesbian, gay and bisexual employees and the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law banning open service in the military:
In stark contrast to the Pentagon policy of "don't ask, don't tell," the State Department acknowledges its gay employees, allows their partners to live in official residences overseas, helps them obtain foreign residence visas, and has sent out a cable to missions encouraging U.S. ambassadors to include diplomats' partners in social and official functions.
While the Pentagon fires at least two service members everyday solely because of their sexual orientation, openly gay civilian employees of the federal government (including civilian employees at the Department of Defense) are embraced and recognized for their service to our country. Isn't it time we embraced and recognized all Americans for their service to our nation, regardless of their sexual orientation? Isn't it time we called on Congress to lift the ban? - Rebecca Sawyer

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How to Fix It

The Army is in trouble. Recruiting standards have slipped and re-enlistment bonuses are through the roof. Even West Point graduates are departing from the military in droves at the earliest opportunities. These troubling facts were highlighted this week in The Boston Globe and MSNBC.com, as well as on the cover of TIME. First, let’s talk about West Point. Founded in 1802, its graduates rank amongst the most notable leaders in American history: US Presidents Grant and Eisenhower aren’t even the most famous. (Check out Wikipedia for an incredibly complete list.) People world-wide have depended on West Point graduates for more than two centuries. That makes it a particularly cruel realization that 46% of West Point’s Class of 2001 exited the Army within 6 months of the earliest opportunity. 54% of the Class of 2000 had left active duty by this January. According to The Boston Globe, “[t]he figures mark the lowest retention rate of graduates after completion of their mandatory duty since at least 1977, with the exception of … three classes in the late 1980s who were encouraged to leave.” According to Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed (West Point ’71), this is because of the rapid “operational tempo” of overseas deployments over the past 6 years. The Associated Press piece on MSNBC.com suggests that the stress of our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are causing service members to not re-enlist. Re-enlistment bonuses are now almost 6 times higher than in 2003, costing the Army and the Marine Corps more than $1 billion in 2006. The authors of the TIME article, entitled “Broken Down,” present a stark look at the current state of the US Army. The piece points out that the Army is understaffed, and that its soldiers are woefully overburdened. It highlights the issue of bonuses, exposes the habit of rushed promotions (“lieutenants can be pinned on as captains after 38 months”), explains that recruiters are only meeting goals because of lowered standards (“recruits from the least-skilled category have climbed eightfold … over the past two years”). There is even a graph illustrating critical shortfalls of midlevel officers. “Broken Down” dedicates its final 725 words to suggesting “how to fix it.” Unfortunately, TIME missed an easy way to get another 41,000 troops in the military: repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Additionally, with repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the military could stop firing 2 gay people every day. It won’t fix the whole problem, but adding tens of thousands of qualified women and men can only help. - Elizabeth Bolles

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Soccer Moms and Article 125

Not that I want to think about any of the leading presidential candidates engaging in sodomy… It’s at least an issue they should be talking about. Gay City News has reported that of the 8 Democratic presidential candidates who have all spoke out against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” only four have spoken out against the sodomy ban, found in Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Why is the sodomy ban an important issue? The military currently defines sodomy as any type of sex other than the missionary position. Service members are still – to this day - prosecuted under Article 125. In fact, it appears that more straight service members are prosecuted than gay service members. The ban on sodomy is outdated and unnecessary. One unforeseen consequence of the ban is that because of the threat of consensual sodomy prosecutions hanging over service members’ heads, when two service members are alleged to have engaged in consensual sodomy, there is an incentive for at least one to cooperate with the prosecution and claim the activity was nonconsensual. As a result, it is easier to convict at least one of the parties, resulting in service members, guilty of nothing more than engaging in consensual sodomy, being sent to prison. In addition, prosecutors already have other tools at their disposal under the UCMJ when they need to hold people accountable for illicit activities – such as assault, rape, or taking advantage of a minor. On first blush, it might seem like too much to expect any candidate to go out on a limb for the right of consenting service members to engage sodomy. As far as I know, soccer moms haven’t placed service-member-sodomy at the top of their list of burning campaign issues. Even so, the Gay City News article reported that Senator Joe Biden's campaign has said that "the Supreme Court's clear and unmistakable view in Lawrence that the sex lives of consenting adults are a private matter... [and that should] apply to every American, both civilian and military." Likewise, the Dodd campaign wrote that the senator believes "every American has the right to privacy and that should be extended to members of the military." What consenting adults do in their own bedroom should be their own business. The Supreme Court recognized this right in Lawrence. When framed more globally, as a privacy issue, as a civil rights issue, and as an issued of fundamental fairness, even soccer moms should be supportive of efforts to lift the sodomy ban. - Aaron Tax

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Extending Tours

This morning, in the New York Times, there was an article discussing the military’s plans to extend tours in Iraq to 15 months. Everyday, I wonder when it will be bad enough that the Army will say that I can come back to my job. Is it bad enough now? Soldiers are truly tired and frustrated with an undermanned military. They are worried about the affects on their families and overall unit morale. I don’t blame them. Over the last six months, I have been working on my master’s thesis which is about how military recruiting has been affected by civil rights movements during wars. American history shows that the military has often opened its doors to minority groups during military personnel shortfalls and after there was action taken by either the executive or legislative branches of the government. African Americans (President Truman’s Executive Order) and women (Women’s Armed Services Integration Act) are the most notable examples. The military did not initiate these changes. The military has a chance to change history. Frankly, I don’t need for General Pace to tell me he is sorry for calling me “immoral.” What I would prefer he do is sit down with his fellow service members and ask real questions. Is it more detrimental that we fill the foxholes with every able-bodied American or choose to discharge gays and not allow them to serve in critical specialties? It appears to me the answer is to expand the recruiting pool and not base eligibility to continue service on sexual orientation. Ending discrimination was the answer in the past and continues to be the answer now. - Former Sergeant First Class Stacy Vasquez

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Hurray for Sandy!

SLDN Honorary Board Member retired Navy Captain Sandy Geiselman, is featured on KD Friedman's guest blog on Our Chart. Captain Geiselman is one of seven retired officers to come out and demand an apology from General Peter Pace. In the blog entry titled "Saluting Sandy," Friedman highlights Captain Geiselman's personal coming out experiences as it relates to the L Word. Go on over and check it out! And don't forget to leave your kudos for Captain Geiselman in the comments below. - Rebecca Sawyer

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