Frontlines: The Latest from OutServe-SLDN
On March 19th America entered the sixth year of the war in Iraq. Four days later, late on Easter Sunday, the Pentagon announced that the four Americans killed that day brought the death toll to four thousand. Regardless of how one feels about the war, no one could deny the sadness and tears embodied in the numbers: five years of war behind us, four thousand Americans dead, more than 29,000 Americans wounded, and many times that number of Iraqis killed and wounded. Anyone would acknowledge, that mountain of misery is very high.
Dying on the field of battle has nothing to do with being gay or being straight or with any of the possible permutations between one end of the bell-shaped curve and the other. A dead soldier is a dead soldier, deserving of our highest respect, and we honor each one of them. Percentages are irrelevant here. It does not matter how many of those honored dead were lesbian, gay, or bisexual. But it does matter--and it matters greatly--that even in death the law of the land refuses to respect, honor, and acknowledge the full humanity, including the sexual orientation, of those brave gay men and women who gave their lives for their country. Only the Congressional/Pentagon-approved version of who they were--the "poster-boy" or "poster-girl" soldier--can be admitted. Even if the gay or lesbian soldier acknowledged it, if everyone around the soldier knew it, and if the family accepted it, the government of the United States willfully refuses to see it. This, frankly, is insulting to the memory of any man or woman.
This question arises today because one of those four thousand dead in the war in Iraq is an Army major, Alan Rogers, who served with great courage and honor until he was killed by an improvised explosive device on January 27 in Baghdad. His burial in Arlington on March 14 was covered extensively
by The Washington Post. Several of his friends have said publicly that Major Rogers was gay, and have accused The Post of colluding with the government in keeping that quiet. That is the subject of Deborah Howell's ombudsman column
published in Sunday's Washington Post, "Public Death, Private Life." The Washington Blade's lead story Friday
was sharply critical of The Post. Its editor, Kevin Naff, sent Howell an e-mail, which she quotes in her column: "It's a double standard to report basic facts about straight subjects like marital status, while actively suppressing similar information about gay subjects." I agree.
I, personally, did not know Major Alan Rogers. However, I do know that an estimated 65,000 gay American men and women are included among the ranks of those who put their lives on the line for our country in this time of war. Each of those service members is a beloved son or daughter of this country, deserving better than a law that requires them to lie every day as a condition of serving our country.
On Monday the President pledged to ensure an outcome to this war that "will merit the sacrifice" of those four thousand who died in Iraq. He vowed "to make sure that those lives were not lost in vain." I respectfully submit that one way for that to happen would be to make sure the laws of the state regarding liberty and justice for all are applied equally to all. Justice is supposed to be blind. In the case of gay and lesbian soldiers, justice is not blind at all. Repealing DADT would be one way of making sure "that those lives were not lost in vain."
A former Army officer and longtime SLDN supporter spoke eloquently to the issue in a recent e-mail: "All we wanted was to be able to talk about [Alan Rogers] as a friend and loved one and for our relationship with him to be honored. The Post didn't just bury the fact of his sexual orientation, it appears to have gone to some lengths to excise that entire portion of his life. It's as if our relationship with Alan never existed. That's what's so disrespectful about what they did. What they denied to Alan in death was exactly what the Army had denied him all his life: a chance, for once, to cease all the obsessive compartmentalization that the military required of all of us, and integrate all aspects of his life into a seamless whole."
(In an ironic twist, the number of men and women the military has lost in Iraq since 2003, according to statistician Gary Gates of the Williams Institute at UCLA, is equal to the number who each year fail to re-enlist because they no longer want to serve under DADT. They would rather be respected for who they are, not for who Congress and the Pentagon would like them to pretend to be.)
(Photo credit/Army Maj. Alan G. Rogers is buried at Arlington National Cemetery/Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)
03-29-08 Comment (1)
Ask John Cook and Waverly Cole about the night they met and they will tell you “We were introduced and we found each other attractive and pleasant and nice and so we started going together.” That was 50 years ago.
Earlier this month, at the SLDN National Dinner, the two received a standing ovation when they took the stage to acknowledge their half century together. Arm in arm they waved to the hundreds of SLDN supporters gathered for the evening. The Washington Blade
’s Chris Johnson was there and offers this report
on the couple.
Generous contributors to SLDN, Cook and Cole both served in the Army. During World War II Cook was part of the second wave of troops that stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day. He was also among the thousands of troops who liberated Paris from Nazi control. For his service, France decorated him with the Croix de Guerre, given to troops who distinguish themselves in conflict.
Cole served as well, having been drafted into the Army in 1955, during peacetime, and served in the medical corps as a captain in Hallenberg, Germany. A graduate of the Medical College of Virginia at Richmond, Cole’s service and degree enabled him to become a practicing physician at age 24.
Today, from their home in Richmond, VA, their lives have slowed down a bit and, according to Cole, “Our fondness grows and that doesn’t diminish with the longevity of our relationship — it just gets more interesting and more delightful to be with each other each day.”
SLDN is proud to call these two gentlemen supporters of our cause. With their help and inspiration SLDN is in the hallways of Congress and in key states and Congressional districts fighting to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Labels: 2008 National Dinner
03-27-08 Comment (1)
Congratulations to the people of Middlesex, Massachusetts for having elected to office State Representative Carl Sciortino
who, according to media reports
, has introduced a bill in the Massachusetts State House which would provide soldiers discharged for being gay with the same tax breaks, Welcome Home and education benefits afforded to their heterosexual counterparts.
The bill would require the Massachusetts Executive Office of Veterans Affairs to develop regulations "to ensure veterans discharged under the above mentioned codes, and/or same-sex spouses of veterans, qualify for and receive benefits they would otherwise be entitled to under Massachusetts General Laws and regulations."
The sacrifice made by America's uniformed men and women deserves to be honored, and the clearest way to do that is by keeping our promise to them -- and their families -- and provide the benefits they have already earned. It is the right thing to do.
The bill, which has been referred to the Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, is currently awaiting further action following a February 28th hearing.
03-20-08 Comment (0)
During a March 16th interview with college journalists Former President Bill Clinton spoke out on a variety of issues relevant to young people today. One of the many issues he touched on was "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Mike Allen, with the media outlet Politico
, reports on the forum
and the former president's comments regarding the law which bans openly gay service members from the armed forces.
As a result of that appearance, SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis yesterday sent a letter to the former president office expressing his belief that "it is important that the political and military leadership of our nation have a clear understanding of the terrible burden and inequitable treatment our lesbian, gay and bisexual troops live with because of the ban on open service."
Following are excerpts from that letter:
"Over the last several months you have been asked by reporters and others about the passage and implementation of 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.' You have stated the law was not implemented as you understood at the time it would be. I gather from your comments that when 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell' became law you intended for the Department of Defense’s implementing regulations to protect service members’ private lives. Unfortunately, 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’s' implementing regulations are by in large consistent with the statutory language of the law itself and effectively prohibits service members from engaging in any actions seen as homosexual conduct. This includes simply telling others that you are lesbian, gay or bisexual."
Sarvis concludes his letter by writing, "'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,' in its inception, application, and practice has placed an unjust and unnecessary burden on lesbian, gay and bisexual troops. This law and the implementing regulations forces good troops to choose between service to their country and a life of personal integrity. I write this letter most respectfully to share with you the harsh realities, record, and consequences of this law over the past fifteen years. I would welcome the opportunity to sit down with you soon to share this record in greater detail. In the interim, let us focus our attention on the important work ahead -- repealing 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.' We welcome the opportunity to work with you to get that done."
Labels: Bill Clinton
03-18-08 Comment (0)
The camera's were flashing at SLDN's 16th annual national dinner, and the busiest bulb in the room belonged to Metro Weekly's Ward Morrison.
03-14-08 Comment (0)
UNITE was the theme of our 2008 SLDN dinner. Bitsey Folger, the daughter of a former DOD Secretary, and one of the grand ladies of Washington, quietly underscored UNITE when she stood before us at the beginning of the evening to say she was proud to be with us and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell must go. Elizabeth Birch, the former Executive Director of HRC and one of this year’s dinner chairs, shared her solidarity with SLDN and our clients when she and SLDN board member Mati Weiderpass opened the floor to donations and raised $155,000 during twenty minutes of spirited giving. And Tipper Gore shared with us some of the early days she and her husband former Vice President Al Gore, spent as a young Army couple stationed at Ft. Rucker, Alabama, living in an Army trailer park, before he left for Vietnam. Tipper is the real deal. Everyone left the dinner knowing full well her remarkable commitment to equality for all. UNITE, indeed.
Likewise, Congresswoman Shelley Berkley, the dazzling lady in Vegas pink, spoke with the good humor and grace, and she spoke from the heart. I couldn’t avoid a good chuckle when Shelley said Sgt Manzella was a “hottie”. But I was near tears when she said she would want Darren Manzella treating her if she was wounded in combat. Shelley honored Darren and she honored all who serve under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Ambassador Michael Guest, Pat and Wally Kutteles, dinner co-chair Riley Temple, and Judy Sheppard all came to UNITE, to end DADT, and to underscore why they believe this fight for equality and dignity must be waged and won.
Finally, we came to UNITE for fellowship and friendship. Yes, this is serious business, but we also need to toast each other from time to time, embrace and share a good laugh or story. This we did last Saturday night in the historic Pension Building.
I didn’t have the opportunity to toast each one of the 875 guests (over 200 were active, retired, or former service members,) so permit me to raise my glass now.
Thank you for a splendid evening, for your generosity, and thank you for your camaraderie.
Dinner Speaker Tipper Gore
Labels: national dinner
03-14-08 Comment (0)
Last Thursday and Friday were proud days on Capitol Hill for SLDN and for LGBT Americans in uniform.
SLDN's sixth annual Lobby Day was a record-setting outpouring of support for our movement to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." It was a joy to see over 200 SLDN activists all over the Hill, looking Members of Congress in the eye and insisting on equality.
I had the honor of observing democracy unfold from the Capitol West Front Lawn, the site of what I'll un-humbly describe as a terrific rally. Looking out from the stage to the sea of activists before me, I got a jolt of renewed confidence that victory is within our reach. And how lucky am I, to get to introduce to our crowd the indomitable Congresswomen Shelley Berkley (D-NV) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)?
I want to acknowledge by name each of the individuals who shared their own brand of inspiration with our crowd at the rally. In addition to the two Congresswomen, we had the pleasure of some excellent words from Chaplain Colonel Paul Dodd, Christopher Dyer from the office of the DC Mayor, Major General Vance Coleman, Vermont Law School Professor Jackie Gardina, Army veteran Austin Rooke, and Reverend and Command Master Chief Jennifer Paty. Each were just awesome. It's no small feat to get hundreds of people to listen to your speech as it starts to pour down rain.
Thank all of you readers who joined us on Capitol Hill last week! It's one of the greatest joys of my job to see citizens engaging with the democratic process on a personal level. Those of you who weren't able to be with us in DC last week, I hope to see you out here next time!
03-14-08 Comment (0)
Washington is the kind of city where sensible shoes and modest hemlines rule. However, there is at least one politician who is not afraid to shine: the very gentle lady from Nevada, Shelley Berkley
Molly Ball and Tony Batt at the Las Vegas Review Journal report on
the star power and legislative authority the Congresswoman from Las Vegas brings not only her constituents, but the Halls of Congress.
SLDN was honored to have Rep. Berkley address supporters at both last week's Capitol Hill rally as well as our 16th annual national dinner. Because of her help and leadership we are closer than ever to the day when every patriotic man or woman in uniform is afforded the respect they have earned.
Labels: national dinner, Shelley Berkley
03-13-08 Comment (0)
There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Last night the Georgetown Law Center hosted
active duty and veteran members of four foreign militaries
– Australia, Britain, Canada and Israel – to share stories of how their nations did away with gay bans within their armed forces.
The event, organized by SLDN Military Advisory Committee member and Georgetown Adjunct Professor Tom Fields,
was an opportunity for Americans to hear how allied nations integrated gay troops into their militaries. The take away message of the evening was -- allowing openly gay service in the armed forces has been a non-event in those countries.
While each nation did weather some adjustments, none of the dire doomsday predictions turned out to be true (no mass resignations, no problems with recruitment, no spike in violence). In fact, the experiences of last night’s speakers was, readiness and cohesion has increased because their service members are no longer required to lie.
So, where does this leave the United States military? Unfortunately I think it leaves our military operating under an antiquated law that hinders their ability to recruit, train and retain patriotic Americans who want to serve our country. I often have heard from staff on Capital Hill that the US military is different from other countries militaries and that is why we cannot lift the ban. I think that is a hard argument to swallow when confronted by an Australian NCO who was awarded a Meritorious Service Medal by the US military while he was stationed in Iraq last year working with US military troops. He contributed just as much to the fight for freedom as his US counterparts – he just did not have to hide who he was while he accomplished his mission. And, what about the British and Canadian troops who are working hand-in-hand with our units in Afghanistan and Iraq. How insulting is it to our coalition partners to say that they can lift their bans without problems because they are somehow less of a military than the US military? Forget insulting, this argument just does not make sense. As the panelist from Israel commented – there has never been a time in Israel’s existence where they have not been under siege and yet they have been able to integrate openly gay service members into their units to the benefit of effectiveness and cohesion.
Last night I saw a light. We are quickly approaching a time when the tired, lame and specious arguments in favor of banning lesbians and gays are overwhelmed by the mounting evidence that it doesn’t work and detrimental to our military. It is time for Congress to catch up to the American people on this issue and repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It is time to do the right thing.
Labels: foreign militaries
03-13-08 Comment (0)
, and emcee for SLDN's 16th Annual Dinner, Carol Joynt describes Saturday evening's festivities for readers of the social site New York Social Diary
"There were a lot of uniforms and medals in the room, and from all branches of the service, emphasizing what’s often reported – that for a lot of military commanders, trying to fight two wars, it is impractical to have willing soldiers sidelined from the front. CBS News, when they featured Manzella, said that discharges of gay soldiers has dropped dramatically from over 1200 in 2001 to about half that."
to read more and to see the photographs.
03-11-08 Comment (0)
1 2 >