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SLDN Believes Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Horizon

Over the past few weeks, some in Washington have argued President Obama should stay away from "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" during his first year or two in office. They point to the debacle that erupted when newly elected Pres. Bill Clinton prematurely tried in 1993 to include gays and lesbians in the military.



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Kevin Nix
January 21, 2009 (202) 621-5402
knix@sldn.org

Highlighting Differences between Obama, Bill Clinton, SLDN Believes Repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" on Horizon
Environment Different Than in 1993

WASHINGTON, DC - Over the past few weeks, some in Washington have argued President Obama should stay away from "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" during his first year or two in office. They point to the debacle that erupted when newly elected Pres. Bill Clinton prematurely tried in 1993 to include gays and lesbians in the military.

"Those who share this view are forgetting two critical pieces of information," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. "First, the public 15 years ago felt much differently about gay and lesbian Americans. There was profoundly less acceptance of gay people. Second, Pres. Clinton didn't consult early with the Joint Chiefs and Pentagon when trying to incorporate gays and lesbians in the military. Wisely, President Obama has already consulted-and will continue to consult-with Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Pentagon on repeal of ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' This president gets that the military is integral to repeal of DADT and successful implementation of a non-discrimination law."

A December 2008 CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll found that 81 percent of respondents believe openly gay people should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military. Fifty-seven percent thought the same way in 1992 (CNN poll, 2007).

Attitudes within the military are changing, too. As Retired Army General John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs during the Clinton Administration, noted in a 2007 New York Times op-ed, "I held a number of meetings with gay soldiers and marines, including some with combat experience in Iraq, and an openly gay senior sailor who was serving effectively as a member of a nuclear submarine crew. These conversations showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers."

Darren Manzella, an Army Veteran Sergeant who served as an openly gay soldier to both his colleagues and command for the entirety of his rotation in Iraq, agrees. "There is a huge generational gap when it comes to accepting gay and lesbian Americans." Manzella is a policy advocate at SLDN.

A 2006 Zogby poll of more than 500 service members returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, three quarters of whom said they were comfortable interacting with gay people.

(A note on polling within the military: A Military Times poll out recently is, by the paper's own admission, an unscientific measure of attitudes within the military. ABC News pollster: "The methodology behind this piece of work is about as reliable as a rusted carbine; FUBAR, you might say. It's not even a survey at all, but a woefully incomplete census of Military Times readers.")

The new Obama Administration yesterday reaffirmed its commitment, once again, to repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" by including unambiguous language on whitehouse.gov. "The President will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals," notes the site.

"As a candidate, during the transition, and now as president, Obama has been consistent in his opposition to ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" said Sarvis. "With his leadership, the Pentagon and Congress can overturn the most discriminatory law in the United States this year."

DADT is the only federal law that requires employers to fire employees for being openly gay. Since 1993, 12,500 men and women have been discharged under DADT. According to a 2007 report by the Williams Institute, DADT has discouraged nearly 45,000 Americans from joining and remaining in the armed forces.

"Let's be clear. We are not pushing repeal in the first 100 days. But repeal is doable this year, in this new political environment under President Obama's leadership."

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is the only organization in the country dedicated solely to providing quality and free legal assistance to men and women kicked out of the military under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law. Established in 1993, we are also the only full-time policy organization in Washington that is pushing for repeal of the law by Congress, the Pentagon, and the new White House.

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