Frontlines: The Latest from OutServe-SLDN

SLDN December Newsletter

Letter from the Executive Director

You did it! With President Obama’s signature Wednesday, it finally happened. Many of you have been fighting back and waiting for 17 years, and some of you fought for decades. You never gave up, and I President Obama Signs DADT Repeal Billmarvel at your resiliency and determination. Quitting was never an option for you. I proudly salute you for waging this difficult and often lonely campaign year after year. 

Yesterday I had a chance to say to President Obama that this was his Lyndon Johnson moment in history. Certainly, this is the defining civil rights legislation of his generation. LGBT service members will soon be welcomed into the ranks as full equals and for this we owe many, especially our champions in Congress. But this was not given to you, you fought for it.

SLDN board co-chair Zoe Dunning has said it best. This wonderful moment is not about the President, HRC or SLDN, or any of the other organizations and allies that made a difference in this fight. This historic win is about the 66,000 LGBT service members on active duty, and this victory is about the one million plus LGBT veterans who served our country in silence. This is about them and that’s how it should be.

There will be time in the coming weeks to share with you more details on how this came together in the last 45 days, but for now I want to say thank you and tell you how honored I am to serve by your side.

Our work is not yet done. There is still a need to assist LGBT service members. And we must be here to encourage and prod, if necessary, the President, Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen to certify sooner rather than later. And then we will be focused on implementation where effective oversight will be needed to insure that each service makes this transition as smoothly as possible and the letter and spirit of the new law is followed. There will be some bumps along the road as there is in any transition, but it need not be contentious. We will be here as a resource to not only LGBT service members, but also to the Defense Department as they prepare and make this important change.

As we close this year, your SLDN staff is elated and exhausted, but let us celebrate this wonderful victory together and give thanks to many. What a wonderful season. Happy New Year to all!

-Aubrey Sarvis, SLDN Executive Director

The Long Journey

SLDN Rage for Repeal rallyOver the past four months, the fight to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) heated up, building momentum toward a victorious outcome in the 111th Congress. Days ago, history was made when the Senate passed the Hoyer/Murphy stand-alone bill to repeal DADT. The measure had passed overwhelmingly in the House on December 15 but its fate was in the hands of the Senate, where it could have died a silent death had no action been taken in the waning days of lame-duck session. But because of your persistence and belief in equality, you kept up the pressure and ensured a successful Senate vote that honored the service of all patriots.

Over the summer, SLDN pushed a number of grassroots initiatives to pressure the Senate to take up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) once they came back from their August recess. These included facilitating in-state meetings of veterans and supporters with key senators, and placing opinion articles and letters to the editor in key newspapers. With these actions, SLDN hit the ground running, trying to beat the legislative and political clock that ticked down toward the November 2 elections. Forty-eight hours before the cloture vote on consideration of the NDAA, SLDN along with Lady Gaga rallied in Portland, Maine, calling on Senators Collins and Snowe, two moderate Republicans to vote with their constituents and support the cloture motion.

On September 21, the cloture vote on DADT repeal came before the Senate and landed with a resounding, frustrating thud, 56-43, four votes shy of passage. Forty-one Republicans and two Democrats stood the line with John McCain (R-AZ) and hid behind parliamentary obfuscation in an effort to delay passage of the Defense bill and the attached DADT repeal.

With the Defense bill stalled, SLDN did not give up hope. Instead we focused like a laser on the “Lame Duck” session of Congress, scheduled for after the mid-term elections. With renewed action in the target states, SLDN legislative staff beat down the halls meeting with over 40 Senate offices.

On December 9, Majority Leader Reid called up a second cloture vote to the NDAA. Again, with the exception of Susan Collins (R-ME), a line of senators linked arm-to-arm, killed the bill, and vowed that nothing would pass on the Senate floor until tax breaks for the ultra-wealthy had been passed. Within hours, Senators Lieberman (I-CT), Collins, and Reid called a press conference, announcing that they were introducing a stand-alone DADT repeal bill, identical to the repeal language that had been attached to the defeated Defense bill.

The next day, SLDN staff and supporters staged a rally in front of the Senate, demanding that senators stay in Washington and finish the business at hand, repealing DADT. The momentum unleashed by this event contributed to a renewed groundswell that helped lead to Saturday’s groundbreaking vote for repeal. 

On December 14, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and repeal champion Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA) introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives, the very same bill of which the Senate approved Saturday and the President just signed.

Now, with Senate and House passage, and the President's signature, we are proud to stand with you on the right side of history as we come to the end of a tumultuous but rewarding year for our service members and supporters.

-Jeremy Wilson-Simerman, Legislative Manager & Emily Sussman, Legislative Associate

Making Your Voices Heard

SLDN clients at the Maine Event 9/20/10Grassroots supporters from coast to coast made their voices heard in 2010.

During the Senate’s August recess, SLDN facilitated in-state meetings for veterans in senators’ local offices, and generated calls, letters, and local op-eds. We hit the ground in Ohio and North Dakota, organizing in-district meetings with Senate offices and identifying local veterans and allies to speak out for repeal.

Just before the September cloture vote, SLDN leveraged the wide-reaching influence of pop star Lady Gaga as she spoke for DADT repeal at SLDN’s rally in Portland, Maine. Thousands of young supporters flocked to the event and learned more about contacting their senators for repeal. The fruits of their labor have popped up time and time again in YouTube videos, such as those from Lauren and Ellie in Colorado (to which Senator Bennet himself responded) and Claire in Arizona.

The failed cloture vote on September 21 yielded a spike in Speakers Bureau requests. SLDN has facilitated speakers and materials for over 25 events since the vote, from law school panels to bar fundraisers. 

Autumn brought SLDN’s Veterans Day video tribute, when supporters from across the country submitted photos and videos of themselves at locations in veterans cemeteries and memorials. Stitched together, their stories represent a patchwork of veterans and supporters – young and old, gay and straight. 

On the ground again in key states during October and November, SLDN built momentum for repeal in target states and local communities nationwide. Major General Dennis Laich from SLDN’s Military Advisory Council (MAC) spoke at heavily military Wright State University in Ohio and Indiana University, and former Rep. Glenn Nye (D-VA) called for action in the Senate at SLDN’s event in Hampton, Virginia. Student groups have also organized panel discussions and other events in support of repeal throughout university campuses in Massachusetts. 

Working in tandem with allied organizations has been a hallmark of our efforts, reflected in the DADT coalition letter sent to all Senate offices in September, signed by 43 organizations. Coordinating action alerts and messaging is ongoing, and 44 organizations officially endorsed SLDN’s “Mission: Incomplete” rally in December. 

With these key events and rallying moments for repeal, our grassroots program has seen increased engagement and growth. Our Facebook page has gained over 1,600 new followers since the September cloture vote, and our constituent database has grown by over 4,200 since that date. Live tweeting during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on the Pentagon report grew our Twitter account by over 70 followers alone, bringing our total followers to more than 2,300 to date.

Among the strongest and most effective grassroots voices were our service members in the field, putting real faces on this fight. We owe them so much.

-Elizabeth Shirey, Grassroots/Policy Advocate

Current State of DADT in the Courts

Legal Services

The past several months have been a legal rollercoaster for DADT in the courts. The result has been a state of legal uncertainty for service members and the Department of Defense. The Legal Department has taken the lead in providing critical information to service members so that they know it’s still not safe to come out. In the meantime, here’s the latest on what’s happening with respect to DADT in the courts:

Fehrenbach v. Department of the Air Force

Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, who has been under investigation and in the discharge process for more than two years, after a civilian outed him, hit his 19-year mark in September of this year. On August 11, 2010, SLDN and Morrison & Foerster filed an Application for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction in the Federal Court for the District of Idaho, to prevent Fehrenbach’s discharge under DADT. On August 17, 2010, In the District of Idaho, the Government agreed to enter into a stipulation with Lt. Col. Fehrenbach, pursuant to which should the Secretary of the Air Force decide to discharge Lt. Col. Fehrenbach, he will be given 21 days notice before that decision is executed, and during which time the Government will respond to Lt. Col. Fehrenbach’s preliminary injunction motion. This court-sanctioned agreement gives Lt. Col. Fehrenbach the best chance possible of reaching retirement should the Secretary of the Air Force decide to discharge him.

Log Cabin Republicans v. United States of America

Judge Virginia Philips ruled in September that DADT is unconstitutional on its face because it violates both the First and Fifth Amendments. In accordance with this finding, Judge Philips ordered that the Department of Defense cease its enforcement of DADT, leading to a very brief period of open service in the military. But the injunction was short-lived because the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the injunction eight days later. The case is currently pending appeal to the Ninth Circuit and scheduled for a hearing in the first quarter of 2011.

Witt v. Department of the Air Force

In September, Judge Ronald Leighton found that Major Margaret Witt was unconstitutionally discharged under DADT. The Judge concluded, in accordance with the so-called Witt standard articulated by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, that because the government did not show that Major Witt’s continued presence in the Air Force constituted a disruption to unit cohesion, morale, and good order and discipline, that she could not be discharged under DADT. In light of that finding, the Judge ordered that Major Witt be reinstated in the Air Force. The Justice Department has filed an appeal in the case, but at this time, it is not seeking to block Major Witt’s reinstatement while the case is being appealed.

Almy et al v. Department of Defense

On December 13, 2010, SLDN and Morrison & Foerster filed suit in federal court in the Northern District of California on behalf of three service members who were discharged under DADT. Michael Almy, Anthony Loverde and Jason Knight are all seeking to have their discharges declared unconstitutional and to be reinstated. Michael Almy is a decorated former Air Force Major who was Honorably discharged after more than 13 years of service; Anthony Loverde is a decorated former Air Force Staff Sergeant who was Honorably discharged after more than seven years of service; and Jason Knight is a decorated former Navy Petty Officer Second Class who has been twice Honorably discharged under DADT, serving a total of more than five years.

Legal Hotline

Every day, SLDN continues to hear from service members who are impacted by DADT – from those who are in the process of being discharged to others who are being menaced by someone who is threatening to out them, and still others who are forced to lie because of DADT. SLDN’s free and confidential legal hotline remains the only place where service members who are impacted by this terrible law can turn for safe and reliable legal advice. All service members who have questions about DADT should contact our free, confidential legal hotline.

Warning to Service Members

The legal and legislative landscape governing DADT has undergone dramatic and rapid changes over the last several months. But despite temporary changes in the law, it remains unsafe for service members to come out. That is why SLDN has continued to remind service members living under DADT that until there is a final resolution — either in the Congress or in the courts — anyone who comes out remains vulnerable to discharge under DADT. For the latest information, visit our Still at Risk page.

-Aaron Tax, Legal Director, & David McKean, Staff Attorney

A Special Note to Our Donors

On behalf of our service members and the entire SLDN staff, thank you for your generous support. We appreciate your commitment to our mission and are honored that you have put your trust in us to provide free, top quality legal services to LGBT service members and to fight for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Your generosity has made a real difference in the lives of LGBT service members and their loved ones. Over the years, SLDN has saved the careers and pensions of many service members and this year has been no exception. While our legal team is not always able to save careers, the positive effect of your support is best described by the women and men in uniform whom we help on a daily basis:

“If it wasn’t for SLDN and countless hours of work on my behalf… I’m not sure I could have survived the two-plus year process of being investigated prior to being discharged.”

"Words cannot express what SLDN has meant to me! When I was first confronted with my DADT case, SLDN was my FIRST phone call. Not only did they provide much-needed counseling and sound legal advice, they also gave me a sense of HOPE! I don't know where I would be without SLDN's legal assistance! Without their help, support, and advice, I would not still be serving on active duty today.”

“During a time when I felt lost, alone, and unsure of what my next step would be, SLDN gave me the help that I could not find anywhere else. Service members are put in situations where we sacrifice our lives – yet when our career is in jeopardy the military does not provide us any help or outlet: SLDN is our saving grace.”

Together, we made wonderful progress this year in the fight to repeal DADT. In January, the President called for repeal in the State of the Union Address. In February, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen proclaimed that DADT repeal was the “right thing to do.” In March, the first-ever repeal bill was introduced in the Senate. In May, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 234 to 194 in an historic vote for repeal and on December 18, the Senate voted to end this treacherous law. And finally, after 17 years, President Obama signed legislation to allow for the repeal of DADT once and for all. None of these milestones were accidental. Each was a result of diligent and strategic work—work that simply would not be possible without the support of donors, like you.

As this year comes to a close, we are thankful for our brave women and men in uniform and grateful for your commitment to them. You can be proud that, with your support of SLDN, you are making a real difference in their lives, as well as future generations of service members who, once this shameful law is repealed, no longer will have to sacrifice their integrity in order to serve their country. Contribute to SLDN

Our work is not done, but this year, with your support, we made historical progress. Thank you and very best wishes for a happy, safe, and healthy New Year.

-David Hall, Development Director and Information Technology Manager, & Susan LaBombard, Major Gifts Officer

Driving the Message, Framing the Debate

SLDN Communications continued to advance the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” debate by generating earned media hits in print, TV and online outlets throughout the last half of 2010. As repeal took center stage in the courts and in the halls of Congress, we remained on the forefront of breaking developments as the nation’s primary go-to resource for policy and legal expertise on DADT.

We have continued to build a strong relationship with the net-roots community and the blogosphere, coordinating our media strategy with dramatic improvements to our set of online interactive tools at SLDN.org. In addition to consistently promoting our legal hotline and warning to service members, Communications provides regular updates to the Frontlines Feed, which are cross-posted to our live Facebook and Twitter pages daily. 

As a follow-up to our “Stories from the Frontlines: Letters to President Barack Obama” new media initiative in the spring, we launched a similar “Family Letters” campaign the week of August 23. Each day we posted a letter from a family member or spouse of a veteran impacted by DADT. These letters served to illustrate how the loved ones of gay service members are impacted by DADT as we urged supporters to call, write and schedule in-district meetings with both their senators just weeks away from key votes on the defense budget. To build further momentum for repeal this year, SLDN partnered with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) in late July to launch “Countdown 2010,” a joint venture designed to increase support and press for passage of DADT legislation in the Senate through in-district meetings, Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach files suitcall-in and e-mail campaigns

Utilizing a wide range of online tools, we coordinated the filing of Lt. Col. Fehrenbach’s August 11th suit with the launch of an interactive web page targeted to members of the media and grassroots supporters. Breaking Lt. Col. Fehrenbach’s story with exclusive placement in The New York Times and NBC, Communications followed up with a news release that included a comprehensive backgrounder, timeline, free-use images and a graphics package, in addition to a national action alert. These efforts generated at least 265 print stories, 142,000 mentions on blogs and news sites, 109 broadcast “on-air” mentions, reaching more than 67 million viewers nationwide. 

In September, SLDN partnered with Lady Gaga to draw attention to the urgent need for the Senate to repeal DADT before the end of the year. Gaga took the fight for repeal to this year’s MTV Video Music Awards, accompanied on the red carpet by SLDN clients impacted by DADT. Highlighting repeal at the VMAs, Gaga called on her fans to visit the SLDN.org action page. Following the VMAs Gaga continued her call for Senate action, joining SLDN at “The Maine Event” September 20 and creating a YouTube video in which she calls both her senators, using her name.

This interactive multimedia campaign resulted in at least 344 print stories, 5.2 million blog/online mentions, more than 3,600 broadcast hits, and 74,000,000 TV viewers – all while increasing traffic to SLDN.org to a whopping 634,000 visits. Lady Gaga’s YouTube video received more than 2.1 million hits and growing.

Lady Gaga with SLDN clients at VMAsOur team continues to tell the stories of veterans impacted by DADT, offering a variety of speakers to cable news channels following key developments in the repeal fight. SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis, Former Air Force Major Mike Almy, Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, former Army Captain Tony Woods and Air Force Staff Sergeant David Hall were repeat guests on MSNBC – including The Rachel Maddow Show, Hardball with Chris Matthews, Countdown with Keith Olberman, and CNN's Newsroom – to discuss the urgent need for Senate action before the end of the year. Former Sgt. First Class Stacy Vasquez was also featured on ABC News’ This Week, former Army Captain Tony Woods has appeared on CNN, and Ret. Marine Sgt. Brian Fricke debated the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins live on MSNBC the day the Pentagon released its study Nov. 30.

We are also sharing the experiences of our service members on the op-ed pages of newspapers and news sites across the country. In addition to hits in The Wall Street Journal, CNN Opinion online and The Hill (here and here), Communications and Grassroots worked with veterans and supporters to place opinion pieces in local papers including The Arizona Republic, The Missoulian, The Daily Republic and The Tennessean

Following the Senate’s failure to pass repeal legislation for a second time on December 9, SLDN organized the “Rage for Repeal” rally the next day to send a clear message that the fight for repeal in 2010 was not over. Making national headlines in stories by The Associated Press (“Foes of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Say Fight is Not Over”) and generating coverage on ABC News, AMERICAblog, MSNBC, and more, SLDN helped reframe the national discussion and sounded the call for a final push to repeal DADT in 2010 during the lame-duck session. 

On December 18 the push for repeal in the lame-duck session achieved victory, as the U.S. Senate passed a stand-alone repeal bill December 18. SLDN’s unique role in this historic vote has received extensive coverage in The Associated Press, The New York Times, LA Times, USA Today, CNN, NBC Nightly News, ABC World News Tonight, FOX & Friends, MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and Hardball, HLN’s The Joy Behar Show, and FOX’s Special Report with Bret Baier.

And, this week, we celebrate the signing of this landmark civil rights legislation. Well done!

-Trevor Thomas, Communications Director & Paul DeMiglio, Senior Communications Manager

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Staff Updates

Julia Braun joined SLDN in July as Administrative Assistant. Previously, she worked at the American Hiking Society. Julia is a graduate of St. Mary’s College of Maryland where she earned an English Degree, concentrating in environmental literature and nature writing.

Ashley Scheideberg joined SLDN in September as Legal Coordinator. Prior to joining SLDN, Ashley worked as an Administrative Assistant in the Business Operations office at the University of Virginia. She graduated from the University of Virginia in 2008 with a major in Anthropology and minor in Sociology.

Sadie Davis, Legal Coordinator, and Erica Reardon, Administrative Assistant, have left SLDN. These outstanding members of the SLDN family will be greatly missed, and we wish them the best.

By Paul DeMiglio, Senior Communications Manager |

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