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Stand by Your Word Mr. President: End “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

By Aubrey Sarvis
Huffington Post
April 27, 2009

President Obama is a brave man. He doesn't hesitate to take great political risks. He asked Congress for billions to save the banking system and more billions to stimulate the economy - and Congress handed them to him. Not everyone looked happily on the trillions we'll be facing in debt, but in a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Sunday he still got a 69 percent approval rating - the highest of any president at the 100-day mark in 20 years - and 72 percent of Americans said they have a favorable impression of him. Not since Ronald Reagan's first 100 days has a president done so well. Obama is not only living up to most Americans' expectations, he's exceeding them.

So here we have a decisive president who's not afraid to act boldly on the economy. He takes the enormous risk of allowing the release of the torture memos, and even so more Americans approve of that controversial act than disapprove. Majorities say that that the country has turned around and is now headed in the right direction, and that he's kept his campaign promises.

That's a lot of political capital, and political capital is political power. The president may never have a better moment. There is, however, one campaign promise he's been silent on since he was elected in November: the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." It's still up there on the White House website.

"President Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy," it says. "The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. The President will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals."

There is no ambiguity in that statement. We like it just fine, but the question is, where's the beef? The president is a man of words, and he knows how to use them very well. He knows their value and he knows their power, and I still like to think that he's a man of his word. I am sure of it, in fact. That's why I'm puzzled by the complete and total silence from the White House on this issue that is vitally important not only to the 65,000 gay and lesbian service members now in the military but also to the security of our country. Firing 50 men and women who are fluent in Arabic solely because they are gay when we are fighting in the Arabic-speaking world? The mind boggles.

If I had five minutes of your time, Mr. President, I would make three points. I would say to you that "don't ask, don't tell" is the only federal law on the books today under which a service member can be discharged for one reason only: because he's gay. He may be the best Arabic translator on the planet, the best pilot, the best battlefield surgeon - but if he's openly gay he runs the risk every day that he'll be reported and discharged - by law - for that reason alone. I would paraphrase what I heard on one of the Sunday talk shows in regard to the torture memos: "This is not a matter of Left and Right. It is not a liberal issue or a conservative issue. It's a matter of what is morally right."

I would like to respectfully remind you, sir, that your Defense Department administers this law. You yourself have said the department "spends millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation." In order to get rid of it, send your Defense budget to Congress next month without the authorization to enforce this shameful testament to prejudice. Tell Congress "don't ask, don't tell" should go the way of the Jim Crow laws. Defense Secretary Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen, can't do it for you. In fact, it's obvious they're not going to volunteer for this assignment unless you ask. But almost certainly they will join you if you, as their Commander-in-Chief, propose it.

I know that some in the White House, in the Pentagon, and in Congress are afraid of this issue. The specter of President Clinton's bungled attempt to achieve open service in the military in 1993 still haunts them. But this is not 1993. Sixteen years have passed and most of the world has changed, the American people perhaps most of all. It is true that some retired admirals and generals in their 70s and 80s still have the mindsets of the 1950s or before, and it is true that with Elaine Donnelly conducting from the wings they have made some harrumphing noises. Elaine Donnelly probably cares more about keeping gays and lesbians out of the military than anyone in the United States, with the possible exception of Phyllis Schlafly who was her mentor years ago in their successful fight against the Equal Rights Amendment and is the brains behind the establishment and continuation of the Donnelly-Schlafly cleverly but inaccurately named Center for Military Readiness.

Mr. President, it is clear that you, along with 80 per cent of the American people, left these women and their surrogates behind long ago. It is also clear that today you have more political capital in your bank than any president probably since Ronald Reagan. Use it wisely. Speak out loudly against "don't ask, don't tell." You - and we - have more to lose by your silence.

Repeal will not happen without your taking the case to the Pentagon, to Congress, and to the American people. You are a natural leader, Mr. President. We are approaching a critical moment in this debate. Now is the time to lead. Failing to speak out against "don't ask, don't tell" in your own Defense Department budget really does mean that you are giving the green light to the content and enforcement of this law. We can't ignore the reality that it will then become Obama's law. I don't think you want that.

Keep your promise, Mr. President, and ask Congress and the American people to join you in standing against this reprehensible law that tortures every day so many young men and women who want to serve our country. Consign it to the dustbin of history where it belongs.

By Aubrey Sarvis, SLDN Executive Director |


Comments for this entry are closed.

A in San Francisco on May 07, 2009 at 06.45 pm

Many of the posters on here have expressed passion and dedication for the repeal of DADT. Thank you for your efforts.

As a servicemember discharged from the Army under this policy, I feel it necessary to highlight the excellent submission written by Nathaniel Frank and posted by Michael from Leonard regarding the delay by Pres. Obama on enacting this repeal. This delay has allowed the letter from 1000 retired officers to be organized and submitted by Elaine Donnelly and pals over at the Center for Military Readiness. It is also useful to highlight the missing element in all this talk of repeal, that of the courage and political will to get it done. The political pause and delay strategy is something that those of us who have served in the military can recognize instantly as the ass-dragging it is. You conceive a mission, you plan it, you rehearse it, you execute it, you debrief and learn from it. It’s not some magic and mysterious formula we’re attempting to learn here; it is a matter of having the guts to break through to the other side because it’s the right thing to do, and it is your mission. Pres. Obama made an unequivocal promise to repeal DADT and he should be held to that oath. Just because Congressman Frank is gay doesn’t mean that he holds some special prerogative to insist that we wait until the time is right. Mr. Sarvis and the people at SLDN, some of whom I have spoken with at length, strike me as being both insistent and patient, and willing to utilize whatever tools are needed in the fight to make repeal reality.

James, I do not know the specifics of your current legal case, and without that knowledge will refrain from judging your comments from that perspective. I feel your frustration and your anger; if this law is repealed I would sign up again that very same day. The stalling by the current administration is unpardonable, but I believe that calling Obama a bigot is a vast oversimplification of the procedural elements needed to get this accomplished, and ultimately serves as a divisive tool between those of us who are genuinely invested in seeing this discriminatory law repealed and replaced with a policy of non-discrimination. I have no vested interest in Barack Obama as my “savior” and I agree with your admonition that one should be judged by how one acts, and “pushing this down the road” is as funky of a political cop-out as funky gets. It stinks. That said, he’s the guy with the power to get it done, and leaning on Ike Skelton would most definitely be a welcome sign of progress and action on this issue. This IS the biggest and most important civil rights movement since the 1960’s, and marching on Washington to demand action is a perfectly valid and prescribed   way to begin the end of DADT.

To Soldier in Iraq, stay safe and don’t worry about this too much. You watch your 6 and know that there are those of us here CONUS who are fighting to make sure that your service is recognized at the same levels of your heterosexual counterparts. Thank you for your service.

Soldier In Iraq in Iraq on May 07, 2009 at 11.16 am

This is my second deployment with more coming I am sure. We are in in the fight serving along side all our brothers and sisters and yet we have to keep silent regarding our families, partners and comunity involvments at home. This is absurd, everyone knows there are Gays and Lesbians here and this descrimination has to stop. President Obama everyone tells me to give you a chance, well you are my Comander in Chief and you are letting me down you promised to repeal “Dont ask dont tell” but now you are silent, doing probs, basically stalling on the issue. Where are your promises ? Want me to believe and support you, support me and the many many gay and lesbian service members under your command.

James E. Pietrangelo, II in Cleveland, OH on May 01, 2009 at 10.41 am

Is there any reader who lives in Washington, D.C. or nearby Maryland or Virginia who would be willing to put me up on a sofa, etc.?  I am determined to go to D.C. and start a march for equality as soon as possible.  Let’s call Bigot Obama on this right now!

Leland Frances on May 01, 2009 at 02.17 am

Yes, Dino, yes. We get it. You’re a besmitten altar boy in love with St. Barack. Keep up with the excuses, floating down the River Denial, and maybe Massa will invite you, too, to the White House to hunt Easter Eggs.

Nothing you’ve said disproves, nor anything Barney Frank has said addresses, what Nathaniel Frank has documented: Obama has not even TRIED to keep his promise of STARTING the work to overturn DADT the moment he took office. Any evidence he’s met with, launched a charm offensive on Rep, Skelton whom you claim can offset the most popular President in 20 years? None. Zip. Nada. Zilch.

Admit it—your priority is defending your hero at all costs—not advancing LGBT equality. You’re embarrassing.

Dino in Washington, D.C. on April 30, 2009 at 11.50 pm

Yes Nathaniel Frank wrote a very eloquent article.  Another guy named Frank, US Representative Barney Frank, recently said that we have to wait until the timing is right, and that probably won’t be until 2010.  That isn’t what a lot of people want to hear, but that is harsh reality.  Representative Frank, despite what you might think of him, has a front row seat in congress and does know what he is talking about.  Besides, as someone previously pointed out, the whole hold up on the repeal of DADT is US Representative Ike Skelton (D) Missouri, who is the Chairman of the US House Armed Services Committee.

Michael @ on April 30, 2009 at 08.55 pm

From “Unfriendly Fire” author Nathaniel Frank’s latest brilliant Huffington post:

“One Hundred Days of Silence

… mounting a swift, clean campaign to end the ban should be the standard by which Obama is evaluated on this issue. It’s not only a matter of impatience to get this done, but of concern that further delays could actually increase–rather than decrease–the chances of a bruising–and possibly losing–battle once we get there.

This would have both political and military costs. Politically, Obama has chosen a strategy of “wait and manage”: hope the issue doesn’t come up, and diffuse it when it does. This approach appears to come from taking the wrong lesson from the Clinton years. Many see Clinton’s error as coming out too soon on gays in the military, guns blazing, without laying the groundwork by consulting with military brass. But it’s a myth that Clinton moved too quickly and didn’t consult the military. The new president met with the Joint Chiefs right after both the election and his inauguration. They just didn’t like what they were hearing, so they balked. Clinton’s resolve weakened. He called for a 6-month “study period” that allowed the opposition to rally and fester.

Underestimating the resistance, Clinton assigned inexperienced, junior aides to manage the issue. In the end, a dressed-up gay ban was locked into place for years to come.

Already, signs show a similar story playing out. The White House will not say publicly who has been tasked to work on this sensitive issue. Obama has remained totally silent on an issue that his campaign and press secretary declared unequivocally that he planned to address–which offers the fairest way to grade him: by how he stacks up against his own professed goals. During his campaign, Obama did not say he would end the ban eventually, but that the time is now. “America is ready to get rid of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy,” he said in a fall, 2007, statement to the Human Rights Campaign. “That work should have started long ago. It will start when I take office.”

It hasn’t. …

Obama’s own silence has left a leadership vacuum that’s been occupied instead with these kinds of dangerous mixed messages. And opponents of equal treatment for gays are gaining ground in framing the debate: into the void have stepped over 1000 retired officers who recently signed a letter insisting that lifting the ban would “break” the armed forces. …

These contradictory messages say to those who are paying attention that the White House has no coordinated plan to lift the ban. And lacking a battle plan is candy to your enemies.

… As a nation, our ongoing refrain of “soon” on gay rights is beginning to sound like the murmurs of a child or addict who insists that responsible, adult behavior is perpetually just around the corner.

… the idea that Obama must wait until the right window to throw the fear overboard is beginning to sound stale. There is no brain surgery involved in ending the gay ban. Unlike solving the financial crisis, winning the war in Afghanistan, or curing cancer, we know perfectly well how to do it. There’s no mystery involved, just will.

… Obama should already have done what Clinton should also have done: issue an immediate executive order halting gay discharges. Contrary to popular belief, the current president still has that option: even though Congress has to repeal the law to get it off the books, nothing in the statute requires that findings of homosexual discharge ever be made. That wording of the law, along with the president’s constitutional and statutory authority to suspend military separations when in the interest of national security still give him the power to cease firing gay troops right now. …”

Full article at

ad in Midwest on April 30, 2009 at 06.53 pm

While I find it interesting that the discussion continues to revolve around the President,  it’s not him that your attention and conversation should be directed.  Rep. Ike Skelton (D) is the hold up on the repeal of DADT.  It has to come out of his committee in Congress to be repealed.  Or am I missing something?  Yes, President Obama can lobby Congress to send him a bill to repeal the law, but it has to start in Congress.  Right?  If the President held such power to repeal laws in and of himself, President Bush would have done away with all abortions on day one!

Jack Andrews in Boston on April 30, 2009 at 05.58 pm

Yes Bigot is a harsh word to throw around but staying silent when hatred and discrimination is going in around you is a form of passive bigotry.

This week its swine flu, next week it will be the car companies, next month the economy, when will it be time for those who serve to protect the country?

Yes it will be ugly and cost Obama but when is a better time then when his party is moving to taking a superhold of the house and senate.

Bottom line to borrow from another poster here “courage and commitment to equality of all people.  Obama has neither” All President Obama has to do to prove this statement wrong is to act.

Joseph Russell on April 30, 2009 at 05.45 pm

I am a gay rights advocate and obviously in favor of the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’.  But I am dismayed by your current approach.  Does anyone remember the lethal backlash to Bill Clinton’s attempt to end discrimination in the military?  It hampered the rest of his career in the White House and handed the foes of equality a political firebomb.  I believe it would be far wiser to give Obama the opportunity to do this when the opportunity is right.

Dino in Washington, D.C. on April 30, 2009 at 03.10 pm

Once again, some historical perspective. Harry Truman had been a US Senator from Missouri from 1935 to 1945, then briefly Vice-President of the US in 1945, and since 1945, President of the US. Prior to his military anti-segreation executive order in 1948, Harry Truman did little or nothing for civil rights, and some notable African-American Civil Rights figures such as US Representative Adam Clayton Powell (D)-NY accused him of being a bigot due to his inaction. He was also said to use racial epithets in private.  Barack Obama is probably more supportive of LGBT rights than President Truman was of racial equality.  To call President Obama a “bigot” is ridiculous beyond words!!!

James E. Pietrangelo, II in Cleveland, OH on April 30, 2009 at 10.07 am

Taking action for Gay equality takes two things and two things only: courage and commitment to equality of all people.  Obama has neither (and thus he has sat on his ass and done nothing; spent more time on his dog than on 30 million Americans in second-class citizenship).  One thing he does have is a pathological sense to lie: he is is “the Liar King.”  I think Disney’s making the movie right now.  Obama’s a legend in his own mind, nothing more.  He loves to hear himself talk, he loves to release photos of himself.  But he’s done nothing for Gays and is a bigot.  Thank God/fate there are people like Leland who do have the courage and commitment to equality to say that the “Emperor” is wearing no clothes.  I think come May Mr. Sarvis will realize his great savior is a fake.

Leland Frances on April 30, 2009 at 02.00 am

First, we hear from the Obamots that Obama is “secretly for full marriage equality” despite his repeatedly denouncing it. Now he’s “privately on board for DADT repeal” even tho his Defense Secty. declares it’s been “pushed down the road” “IF” they do it at all and Obama is totally Missing In Action.

The main difference between Truman and the military and racial integration and Obama and the military and gay intergration is that Truman actually cared about integration and—though the military fought him tooth and nail—they realized HE had bigger b-lls than they did—just as he taught MacArthur. Obama lacks both.

This site is supposed to be about gay servicemembers defense not defense of your comic book hero.

Dino in Washington, D.C. on April 29, 2009 at 09.49 pm

er Leland..what’s wrong with President Obama “tearing up” about how much the members of the US Armed Forces mean to him? It’s pretty obvious he needs to develop a good relationship with our military. A bit of history for the impatient; President Harry Truman had been in the White House already for three years when he signed the famous executive order to desegreate the armed forces in 1948.  He also worked hard during that time to develop a lot of credibility with the military.  If he hadn’t and he had attempted the executive order in 1945 just upon becoming president, it wouldn’t have worked.  Besides, it’s CONGRESS and not President Obama who ultimately has to repeal DADT. Res talks some good sense.  I am sure President Obama privately is on board, and if he could he would abolish DADT tomorrow.

Leland Frances on April 29, 2009 at 08.15 pm


In his 100 Days press conference the Commander in Chief came close to tearing up over how much members of our military mean to him…..

unless you’re gay, of course.

Leland Frances on April 29, 2009 at 07.17 pm

RES, permit me to translate you for the drooling impaired:

Attention, Children. First the good news: The Messiah, er Elvis, er President is in the building, er White House. Now the bad news: the turning of water into wine, er,  the repeal of DADT, even starting the process, even talking about it, in fact, even chewing gum and walking at the same time have been postponed until further notice. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

BUT the CHANGE-HOPE-MASS HYPNOSIS T-Shirt Shop is still open; featuring our new product fresh from the White House Poppy Field - guaranteed to make you sleep.  And, of course, as always, letters, er, petitions, er, letters to Santa Claus, er, the IMPOTENT, er the POTUS, are still gladly accepted and immediately join the 40,000 others he gets everyday.

And, yes, the Messiah, er, President wants you all to know how much he still appreciates your falling on the floor and speaking in tongues at the mere mention of his name. Bless you, my child.

James E. Pietrangelo, II in Cleveland, OH on April 29, 2009 at 10.29 am

RES: You sound like an apologist for George Wallace—the infamous governor who opposed desegregation.  You’ve been drinking the far-left koolaid so long your lips are red.  Leland Frances, like the rest of the sane world, doesn’t measure a person’s convictions by how s/he “feels,” but rather how s/he acts.  Talk is cheap.  I know you are one of those “touchy-feely” liberals who loves to talk “feelings,” but I don’t give a damn about Obam’s “feelings.”  Obama has done nothing for Gay equality, and as President he’s done nothing for this country.  Civil disobedience is the only way Gays are going to get equality. Leland Frances is right.  So, please, RES, shut YOUR mouth, as your comments are as worthless as Obama’s. Stop appeasing Bigot Obama.

RES on April 28, 2009 at 04.54 pm

Leland Frances, civil disobedience?  What is wrong with you.  You sound as bad as those right wing nuts who want to overthrow the government because Obama won.  You use blanket statements to condemn Obama yet you don’t know anything about how he feels.  Shame on you.  Who do you think would have been better for gays, McCain/Palin?  Please stop whining and do something constructive to get positive action on DADT/DOMA.  Considering Obama has been in office only 100 days he sure has done a lot of positive things and still has a lot more to do.

Thank you for this letter, Aubrey Sarvis.

James E. Pietrangelo, II in Cleveland, OH on April 27, 2009 at 12.56 pm

Leland Frances: you are exactly right!  Thank you for your comment.  I have been saying the same thing on this blog too.  We need to start marching on Washington, D.C. and shame Obama into action.  Nothing else will work.

Leland Frances on April 27, 2009 at 12.47 pm

Just ONE gay-related campaign promise he’s become silent on?

He’s been silent on ALL of them. While 81% of Americans support DADT repeal, and a majority support every other one of his gay-related promises, he remains politically suspended, of no more use to us than baseball legend Ted William’s frozen head, as separated from its body as Obama has become from his self-proclaimed “fierce advocate of gay and lesbian rights.”

Save the petitions, the Op Eds, and the ads. The only thing that is going to shame this politician out of his now obvious naked indifference to gay inequality is civil disobedience.