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BREAKING: SLDN Calls for Action from Panetta on Gay and Lesbian Service Member Benefits

For immediate release:
Thursday, August 11, 2011

SLDN Calls for Action from Panetta on Gay and Lesbian Service Member Benefits
Letter reiterates need for policy prohibiting discrimination and harassment

(Washington, D.C.) Army Veteran and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis today sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, thanking him for his commitment to ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) and calling on him to adopt a policy of nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation and do more to bring about changes in benefits for gay and lesbian service members.

“Department officials, both civilian and military, have repeatedly said that gay and lesbian service members will be treated with respect and dignity and that nothing will stand in the way of advancing as far as their skills and talents will take them. We applaud these sentiments, and we are calling on the Department of Defense to formalize this commitment by reflecting them in its policies and practices,” said Sarvis.

In the letter, Sarvis urged the Pentagon to include “sexual orientation” in its Human Goals Charter and to bring enforcement of that commitment into the Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) program, which provides an avenue of recourse outside the chain of command for service members who are experiencing harassment or discrimination.

“It should be a simple matter to include sexual orientation as a part of the armed forces’ longstanding commitment to equal opportunity for all service members regardless of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin,” said Sarvis. SLDN has similarly called for President Obama to issue an executive order prohibiting discrimination and harassment in the military.

In addition, Sarvis asked Panetta to do all in his authority to address the lingering inequities in the areas of family support, pay and benefits that will exist for gay and lesbian service members following the repeal of DADT.

“With the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ there will be two classes of service members in the U.S. military – those who receive the full range of benefits and support and those who don’t. At SLDN, we fully understand that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents the Department from extending the same support and benefits to all service members. However, Secretary Panetta has the ability, within the confines of the law, to make same-sex married couples and their families eligible to take part in some of the programs that are available to their straight married counterparts,” said Sarvis.

Sarvis said these include making same-sex married couples eligible for joint duty assignments, family center programs, and military family housing. A complete list may be found here in the content of the letter.

STILL AT RISK: Despite the certification issued July 22, 2011, it is still unsafe for service members to come out until September 20, 2011, when repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) will become final. Click here to read our warning to service members.

SLDN FREE HOTLINE: Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members with questions are urged to contact the SLDN hotline to speak with a staff attorney: Call 1-800-538-7418 or 202-328-3244 x100.

ABOUT SLDN: Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) was established in 1993. In addition to working on repeal, SLDN offers free, confidential legal services to those impacted by the discriminatory law. We have received more than 11,000 calls for assistance to our legal hotline.

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