Are Don't Ask, Don't Tell's days numbered?

How about some good news for a change? Representative Patrick Murphy (PA-08) told the Huffington Post yesterday that a bill repealing the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy will reach President Obama's desk soon:

"This policy is going to be repealed in a short matter of time," Murphy said. As for service members who are being discharged because of their sexuality, Murphy said "If they can hold on, help is on the way. And help is going to come [from] the Congress and be signed into law by the president."

Murphy has 168 co-sponsors for legislation that would repeal "Don't Ask Don't Tell", as well as several commitments from party leadership that the bill will come to a vote.

Murphy became the lead sponsor for H.R. 1283, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, last month after Representative Ellen Tauscher (CA-10) resigned to take a State Department position. Murphy announced plans to meet with every member of the House to discuss this issue and launched the Let Them Serve website. You can view the list of 168 House co-sponsors here.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to hold hearings on repealing DADT sometime this fall. Roll Call reported last month, "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has also signaled support for addressing the issue -- if the House sends over legislation first." I'll believe that when I see it, but getting a bill through the House would be a significant step in the right direction.

Speaking of DADT, this week blogger Lane Hudson challenged Bill Clinton at Netroots Nation, and Clinton defended his record on LGBT issues. You can read or watch the exchange here.

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Senator Gillibrand Tirelessly Working to Repeal DADT

If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again must be freshman Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's motto. Though the New York Senator failed to rally enough co-sponsors for a temporary suspension of the Don't Ask Don't Tell ban that prevents gays and lesbians from serving openly in the US Military, Senator Gillibrand has secured the commitment of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Senator Carl Levin of Michigan to hold hearings on the ban when Congress returns in the Fall. Talk about having an impact and not taking no for an answer.

From the Senator's press release:

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is announcing that the Senate Armed Services Committee is agreeing to hold a Senate hearing on the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy in the Armed Forces this fall.  According to a report from the Center for American Progress released last month, since President Barack Obama took office, 265 men and women have been dismissed from the Armed Forces because of the DADT policy.

"This policy is wrong for our national security and wrong for the moral foundation upon which our country was founded,'" Senator Gillibrand said. "I thank Chairman Levin for agreeing to hold this important hearing.  Numerous military leaders are telling us that the times have changed.  `Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is an unfair, outdated measure that violates the civil rights of some of our bravest, most heroic men and women. By repealing this policy, we will increase America's strength - both militarily and morally."

Nearly 13,000 service members have been discharged for their sexual orientation since 1993, when the policy was first instituted. The Government Accountability Office estimates that the policy cost the Armed Forces approximately $95.4 million in recruiting costs and $95.1 million for training replacements for the 9,488 troops that were discharged from 1994 through 2003.  

According to a Gallup Poll from May of this year, 69 percent of Americans favor military service by openly gay men and lesbians.

More than 100 retired U.S. military leaders - including the former head of the Naval Academy -signed on to a statement last November calling for an end to DADT policy.

Last month, Senator Gillibrand met with Lt. Dan Choi, a constituent, who was dismissed from the Armed Forces because of the DADT policy.  Senator Gillibrand pledged to work with him to repair the damage that has been done to his career and spare thousands of innocent, brave men and women from the same injustice.

Senator Gillibrand is a tireless advocate of progressive causes and showing true leadership on this and other issues (did you read her call for a public option?). And she's getting results. As a measure of her success, it should be noted that these hearings will be the first official review of the DADT policy since Congress passed the law in 1993.

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Political Homophobia Kills

Joe Sudbay of AMERICAblog describes the political homophobia infecting the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats.

Political homophobes aren't gay-hating in the traditional sense. In fact, publicly, most are strong supporters of LGBT equality. But, behind closed doors, many Democratic leaders, consultants, Hill staffers and the rest will vociferously argue that there is no political benefit to actually supporting LGBT rights. Political homophobia is rampant among some Democrats. In some ways, it's worse than blatant homophobia, since we think most Democrats are on our side. And outwardly, they are.

Political homophobia dictates policy in DC more than we'd like to think. I believe it's happening in the West Wing right now. I've been told by several people that while the president's chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel, isn't a homophobe in the traditional way (he always voted the right way when he was in the House), he is always the first person to suggest that his colleagues (and now boss) avoid gay issues. He'd rather not deal with them because he thinks they're bad politics.

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Why is the Onus On Gay Soldiers to Hide?

By this time, most of you probably know about the exchange between Pres. Obama and Lt Col Fehrenbach.  I want to focus on this part of the AP Story:

Fehrenbach said after talking with Obama, he felt confident "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," would eventually be repealed. But he said he was not sure it would happen before he is discharged. His case is before the Personnel Review Board, which is considering whether to recommend discharging him. After that, it will go to the Air Force secretary for review.

He said Obama told him that while 75 percent of the public supports repealing the policy, senior leaders in the military still need to be convinced.

"I said to him, `The people I serve with don't care,' " Fehrenbach said. "This is a nonissue."
 

I understand that rank has its privileges, especially in the military. However, those privileges should never extend to the point of endangering national security to indulge their own homophobic prejudices.

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The LGBT Event at the White House

The President and the First Lady today hosted a group of LBGT leaders at the White House. Newsweek's Katie Connolly covered the event:

The First Couple hosted a celebration honoring LGBT pride month in the East Room this afternoon. The event comes amid rising tensions between the Administration and the gay community, who are disappointed at the lack of attention to their issues so far this year. For the most part, Obama didn't mince words. He described the gay rights "struggle" as "difficult", "painful", and "heartbreaking". He likened the movement to prior civil rights battles, drawing parallels with "all those in our history who've been denied the rights and responsibilities of citizenship; who've been told that the full blessings and opportunities of this country were closed to them." He told the invite only group that he understood their frustrations, and it wasn't for him to advise patience, "any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African Americans who were petitioning for equal rights a half century ago."

After listing the steps his Adminstration has taken to further gay rights - the memo about extending partner benefits to federal employees, calling on Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, meeting with Matthew Shephard's mother as part of a strategy to address hate crimes and repealing the HIV travelers ban - Obama turned to Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And this is where his words when from unambiguous to murky. Although he acknowledged that "preventing patriotic Americans from serving their country weakens our national security", his plan for ending DADT was unclear. He's apparently working with the Pentagon and Joint Chiefs to develop some sort of strategy, but he didn't give a deadline or outline a process. The upshot? This doesn't really advance the repeal much beyond a campaign promise. There is a bright side for gay rights activists though. If you read between the lines, DADT will be likely be repealed before the next election.

The President received a strong applause after saying that "We've been in office six months now. I suspect that by the time this administration is over, I think you guys will have pretty good feelings about the Obama administration."

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