The global economy is in crisis. Here at home we're 12 months into the worst recession in 25 years, maybe more. Almost everyone has felt its effects up close and personal, as those Olympics profiles used to put it. We watch nervously as our savings take a serious pummeling. We see the numbers of real estate foreclosures soaring and our friends get pink slips. The Tribune Company, which owns two of the country's great newspapers, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, files for bankruptcy. Autoworkers fear for their jobs - and that includes the CEOs. A bank as large and powerful as Citicorp is in trouble. Yes, every day we go online, open the newspapers or turn on the radio or the television news, the economic news is grim or grimmer.
Considering all that - and it's a lot to consider - when Darren Manzella and I brought our message to Los Angeles and San Diego last week, we were truly gratified and genuinely touched by the warm reception we received. Our comrades-in-arms on the West Coast continue not only to welcome us warmly but also to support us with great generosity, both financially and spiritually. They reached deep into their pockets and gave the cause we all support close to $100,000. What an inspiration!
Every dollar of that will help us take our message to men and women in every state, to each member of the House and the Senate, to military and civilian leaders in the Department of Defense, and to the new team in the White House. Our message is simple: Treat us all equally. That's what this country is about: fairness, justice, equality. It is not fair or just that sexual orientation should be a qualification for military service. In fact, it's ridiculous. But "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is still on the books. With supporters like ours, however, I am hopeful, even confident, that the next Congress will turn that law into toast and replace it with a statute that honors our Constitution and our country's best traditions.
Our fight is not "leftist" or "rightist." Our fight is to make sure that Congress and the Pentagon treat all men and women, regardless of sexual orientation, the same.
Hollywood writer and producer John Bawah hosted some 30 of us in his West Hollywood apartment overlooking the city. The spot was glamorous but the message was serious. The victory of Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative against gay marriage, was still heavy on the minds of everyone there. Fair-minded people gave many millions to defeat Proposition 8, but their opponents gave even more and the campaign to defeat the initiative failed. It was the same old lesson: In politics, money, planning and organization talk. To accomplish a political goal - to bring the message to the citizens through the Internet, the media and through personal contact - costs a lot of money. Just look at the Obama campaign, the most expensive presidential campaign in history. An unprecedented number of individuals gave a record-breaking amount of money online and organized smartly to help assure the victory of the candidate who supports repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
But we all agreed that electing Barack Obama is not enough. We have to help him and the new Congress act, because so much of what we want requires that Congress act. Former Army sergeant Darren Manzella shared with the group the inspiring story he has told many times, most notably on 60 Minutes one year ago: How tough it was for him to serve under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and keep his honor, integrity and sanity intact, and how he was finally driven to speak out - and in a very big way. After two tours in Iraq as a highly decorated combat medic and a few months after his appearance on 60 Minutes he was handed his discharge papers. The Army's loss was SLDN's gain. Darren's story inspires me every time I hear it, and for those hearing it for the first time it is truly awesome.
Robert Meinzer and his partner Steve McIntee gave another reception for us in their beautiful Mission Hills home in San Diego. Anna Curren and Mike Magee, our two San Diego board members, greeted us at the door. We were delighted to see active duty service members as well as reservists among the guests, and former SLDN clients booted out under DADT - all of whom greeted us warmly.
Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-CA), who represents San Diego in Washington, gave a spirited message of hope and acknowledged the big role that SLDN continues to play in the fight to repeal DADT. She believes it can be repealed but she is cautious about when. The House Armed Services Committee is a conservative group. Rep. Davis has first-hand knowledge of that - she sits on the committee, is Chairwoman of the Military Personnel Subcommittee, and chaired the historic hearing we had last July. We are lucky to have Susan Davis as one of our great allies.
John Marelius, a reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune, came by and later wrote a story whose headline said we were facing a "battle ahead." The headline is right. If you read Elaine Donnelly's comments in the article, you'll find her usual cries of "forced cohabitation" and our "radical agenda." She claims that average people don't understand the issue. "Civilians know about as much about that as they would if you asked them a question about issues currently being debated in the Canadian Parliament."
That's the kind of hysterical homophobia we face, and you can be certain that Ms. Donnelly and her allies will be outspoken, to put it mildly, when the time comes - as it will - to change the law.
12-10-08 By Aubrey Sarvis, SLDN Executive Director |