Frontlines: The Latest from OutServe-SLDN
12-29-11 By Aubrey Sarvis, Army Veteran & SLDN Executive Director | Comment (0)
12-28-11 Comment (0)
“This is done.”
One year ago, President Obama said those words as he signed into law the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). The mood at the signing ceremony was electric, history being made and a wrong being made right. It was like a family reunion with people who had been involved since before DADT, as well as the next generation of advocates and service members
The journey to that moment was a tumultuous one. It was the culmination of decades of hard work and advocacy, fueled by the sweat, and tears of thousands of individuals. As we celebrate one year since the signing ceremony, we'd like to reflect on the roller coaster ride, and what the future holds for LGBT service members.
The goose bumps can still be felt, when we remember watching the vote tally tick past 218 in May 2010 as Patrick Murphy's DADT repeal amendment was adopted to the House defense bill. The SLDN staff whether in the conference room or sitting in the Gallery on Capitol Hill, watched nervously, waiting for the votes to come in. In the office when it became clear that the amendment was going to pass, we jumped up and hugged each other with a child-like giddiness. The elation of that moment was absolutely amazing.
In September we continued to prepare for an upcoming vote in the Senate. Lady Gaga and service members joined us in Maine as thousands of residents gathered in support of the repeal of this law – hoping their Senators would do the same when it came time to a vote.
That elation and energy was followed by despair mid-September and again in December, as DADT repeal seemed to die by just a few votes in the Senate, both times. The staff gathered again, but the outcome was pretty clear. The votes had been counted and repeal was not going to be able to survive the threat of a filibuster.
Grief turned to anger, and a day after the second failed Senate vote we gathered on a cold, raw day outside the Capitol, shouting at the Senate to not go home for their holiday vacations until they had passed DADT repeal. Inside, gay and lesbian service members and veterans kept a round-the-clock silent vigil in the Senate gallery, looking down upon the legislators in quiet protest, and reminding them of who was to be affected because of the chamber's inaction.
And then, it broke and the pressure became too unbearable. With LGBT advocates, both the House and Senate-- Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike-- worked on a privileged motion, passing the first stand-alone LGB rights bill through both chambers in the course of 72 hours. The uncertainty, stress, and exhaustion over the course of just a few days had left a dizzying numbness. Had repeal actually been achieved? One had to keep pinching themselves just to believe it.
At the signing ceremony, the sense of pride and accomplishment was palpable. However, that feeling was tempered by a renewed sense of commitment to achieve what had not been won that day. We still need a policy of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. We still need to ensure that lesbian and gay service members and veterans receive the same family benefits and support services as their straight counterparts. We still need to change the medical and conduct regulations so that qualified transgender patriots can serve their country. As we look back on 2010, we look forward to working with you to achieve these goals in 2012.
12-22-11 By SLDN Government Affairs Co-Directors, Jeremy Wilson-Simerman and Emily Tisch-Sussman, Esq. | Comment (0)
“I feel good about it. It's nice to be able to be myself.” - Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta to a Virginian-Pilot reporter when asked about how it felt to be able to be the first Sailor off USS Oak Hill to kiss her girlfriend - and the first known lesbian Sailor to openly participate in the tradition.
“True acceptance is when no one will care about this. We’re not there yet. Personally, I don’t give a rat's turd about any of this. Serve and do your job. Welcome home. Enjoy your holiday stand down.” - U.S. Navy Senior Chief (E-8) and friend that I greatly respect and admire, upon sharing a photo of the moment with his friends online.
And so, in a nutshell, you have my reaction to this “first kiss” - it is both magnificent and mundane. It is a moment of private joy shared publicly and will soon be repeated over and over as gay, lesbian, and bisexual Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen come home from serving overseas. This moment, so often repeated by straight uniformed members, shouldn't be a headline in a post-DADT reality and yet…
I have to acknowledge that post-DADT “firsts” have been happening, will continue to happen, and they ARE significant. They matter today, obviously, but not just because of the present. They matter because of the past. Thousands of service members were discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and never had the opportunity to experience that “coming home embrace” from a partner. They couldn’t take their partner to a service ball because having a same-gender partner was against the law. They couldn’t get married because it was against the law. They couldn’t reenlist because their discharge papers marked them incompatible with military service.
A year ago, December 22, 2010, after the most intense lobbying for repeal we had ever seen, the law to repeal DADT was finally signed by President Obama.
Starting in January, we began the suspenseful process of waiting and watching to see when certification would take place. Days turned into weeks and then months… and when it happened, we waited those 90 unending days, until September 20th, for the policy to finally turn to dust. It took no time for the firsts to begin. Almost immediately, Lt. Gary Ross became the first military member to marry his partner. On September 22nd, two days later, I took the oath of enlistment into the Navy reserves, becoming the first veteran discharged under DADT to rejoin the military. On December 12th, twice DADT-discharged Sailor, Petty Officer Jase Daniels became the first to return to full active duty. Captain Matthew Phelps recently became the first to publicly recount bringing his partner to a Marine Corps Birthday Ball. Now, the iconic “coming home embrace” has its first openly gay kiss by two Sailors who happen to be lesbian and engaged.
Yes, true acceptance is still happening. After all, it’s only been a little over 90 days. These firsts signify the very real result of sacrifices made to end a law that did real harm to people’s lives. They matter even more because the fight isn't over. The Defense of Marriage Act still makes legal marriages like Lt. Ross’s meaningless to the military. The promise of equality isn’t over. He can bring his partner to unit functions, but they do not have the same rights and privileges as straight married couples in uniform. If Petty Officer Gaeta chooses to marry her partner, also a Sailor, they won't be eligible for any programs that would normally try to accommodate marriages where both partners are in uniform.
SLDN has taken on DOMA as its next goal, announcing a lawsuit to challenge the inequality and intentional harm it causes.
These moments, these firsts, should be ordinary, but they aren’t yet. These firsts matter because our allies, activists, leaders and representatives need to be reminded that inequality continues and uniformed lives continue to be affected by it every single day.
My final thought is one of congratulations. Congratulations to all of the firsts that HAVEN’T received attention. To all of those in uniform who finally felt comfortable enough to come out to their co-workers without fear of reprisal; to all of those who felt comfortable enough to bring their partner to a “hail and farewell” party; to all of those who felt comfortable enough to put a picture of their partner on their desk for the first time… THESE are the firsts that matter today and they will continue to make a difference. Each personal first is a small victory for us all. Each affirms that repeal was the right thing to do and that integrity among team members matters.
Congratulations, Petty Officer Gaeta! And Congratulations to every LGB service member who, by example, makes the case for why DOMA repeal or elimination must happen soon.
12-22-11 By MC1(SW) Jeremy Johnson, USNR, Member of SLDN's Military Advisory Council | Comment (0)
12-14-11 By Lt. Col. Victor J. Fehrenbach, USAF (Retired) | Comment (0)
A little over a week ago, the Senate passed its version of the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (S.1867), a bill that authorizes federal funding for the Department of Defense. The bill includes language concerning military chaplains. The amendment by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), which passed, reads: "A military chaplain who, as a matter of conscience or moral principle, does not wish to perform a marriage may not be required to do so." This amendment is essentially redundant, as DoD regulations already state that military chaplains do not have to perform marriages "if doing so would be in variance with the tenets of his or her religion or personal beliefs."
Last week, the conference committee, a group of legislators from both the House and Senate, was appointed to reconcile differences contained in both bills, including language introduced by Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO)and Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) and passed in the House bill (H.R. 1540) in May . That language expands DOMA, disallowing the use of any DoD property for a same-sex ceremony, even in states that allow it. It would also bar chaplains, service members, and DoD civilian employees from participating in any same-sex ceremony, on or off base.
On Thursday, SLDN issued a letter to conference committee leaders, outlining our positions on a number of important issues, including the Wicker, Akin, and Hartzler provisions, as well as the repeal and amending of statutes related to sodomy and sexual assault. To view the full text of the letter, click here.
At SLDN, we will continue to work closely with the committees and staff to protect the gains we have made for LGBT service members. Please continue to visit the Frontlines Blog to get the latest updates.
12-12-11 By Jeremy Wilson-Simerman, SLDN Government Affairs Co-Director | Comment (0)
12-02-11 By Jeremy Wilson-Simerman, SLDN Government Affairs Co-Director | Comment (0)