by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
Two leading Gay rights groups, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Servicemembers United, joined forces on May 11 to bring hundreds of veterans to lobby Congress for repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (DADT).
The Gay military ban, known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," requires the Defense Department to separate from the armed services members who engage in or attempt to engage in homosexual acts, state they are homosexual or Bisexual, or marry or attempt to marry a person of the same biological sex. Nearly 14,000 otherwise qualified men and women have been discharged from the military under DADT, and many thousands more have chosen to not re-enlist because of the policy. Enforcing and implementing the policy has cost U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
HRC, along with Servicemembers United, have been working together with lawmakers to get DADT repealed. This week, they hoped that personal narratives of military veterans would propel their cause forward. According to CNN, hundreds of LGBT veterans and straight veteran allies attended the lobby day, and posed for a photo on the Capitol steps with Senator Joseph Lieberman, the chief sponsor of the bill that would repeal DADT. "Repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell!'" the activists shouted during the photo session, minutes before they met with lawmakers. The vets had received training earlier in the week on how to lobby members of Congress.
The debate over a possible DADT repeal in 2010 began when President Barack Obama asked Congress to end the Gay military ban during his State of the Union address. Since then, the Obama Administration and Congress has done little to prove that what the president said will actually happen. Currently, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has commissioned a study to find out how to "best integrate the repeal." Results from the Pentagon-led study are not expected until the year's end. The timeline has become a major point of contention for DADT adversaries as each day, Gay and Lesbian servicemembers still face discharges under the discriminatory law.
Eric Alva, a retired Marine working with HRC, visited with his congressman, Representative Charles Gonzalez, a Democrat from Texas.
"He's a friend to his constituents so we were there just to thank him," said Alva, who was the first American seriously injured in the Iraq war when he lost his right leg after stepping on a land mine. He announced he was Gay after his medical discharge from the military.
Andrew Dawson, a former Marine Corps corporal from West Virginia, received an honorable discharge under DADT. Still, he says his discharge papers explicitly state that he was kicked out of the military for being Gay.
"It sets me up to be discriminated against by future employers," he said.
Andre Sauvageot, 77, served in the Army during World War II. Sauvageot says he is straight and "happily married to a Vietnamese woman for 40 years," but said he came to the lobby day to show solidarity with Gay and Lesbian veterans.
"It's a waste of human resources to discharge skilled military personnel simply because of sexual orientations," he said.
Sauvegeot says he spoke with two Virginia senators, Mark Warner and Jim Webb, both Democrats.
"I'm very encouraged," he said. "I think people are beginning to understand the common sense and justice in keeping with American values in getting rid of DADT."
Servicemembers Legal Defense network said their client, Sara Isaacson, a University of North Carolina Army ROTC student (discharged in March after she told her commander she was a Lesbian and told by school officials she would have to repay her $80,000 ROTC scholarship) was on hand to lobby lawmakers.
"Our first meeting this morning went very well," said Isaacson in a press release about her lobbying efforts on May 11. "I was able to share my story and tell them about my dream to follow my grandfather and become an Army doctor. I think it was beneficial for them to hear it directly from me. I believe in living up to the military's core values of integrity. If I could serve openly and honestly, I'd seriously consider returning to school today and serving my country after graduation."
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