Servicemembers Legal Defense Network

SLDN Releases Guide to Open Service

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) has created a new legal guide, Freedom to Serve: The Definitive Guide to LGBT Military Service, to help navigate the laws and policies related to military service that will exist following the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). It is downloadable at www.sldn.org, the SLDN website which has been redesigned for the post-DADT environment. The guide and website cover SLDN’s legal services, and issues such as standards of conduct, benefits for spouses and families of service members, discharge upgrades, and veterans’ benefits.

SLDN Legal Director David McKean:

The information contained in this legal guide will help service members, prospective service members, their families, and friends make informed decisions about how to serve successfully as we move beyond ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ It will also assist them in understanding how to protect themselves when necessary and how to respond if they are targeted in any way for their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

The new guidance will become effective on September 20 when the DADT repeal goes into effect. The clock is ticking.

PFAW

UPDATE: DADT repeal survives Senate committee

Last week, I reported the need for vigilance over Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) repeal given pending action on the FY12 Defense Authorization bill in the Senate Armed Services Committee. Thankfully, the challenges we faced in the House did not materialize in the Senate.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network:

After a decade of discussions with the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and specific recommendations to the Hill, we welcome the Senate Armed Services Committee’s (SASC) decision to repeal Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) relating to sodomy. This action has been recommended by SLDN and several groups, including the Cox Commission, which includes distinguished legal scholars from the military and academia, as well as the Comprehensive Review Working Group (CRWG). The committee’s decision to amend Article 120 of the UCMJ is also timely and welcomed.

We were also pleased that provisions to delay ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal certification, as well as inject DOMA language into the bill, were not offered.

As we look toward the Senate floor and eventually the conference committee, keep in mind that we are two days away from the six-month anniversary of DADT repeal on June 22. The clock is ticking.

Servicemembers are still waiting. We’re all still waiting. We need swift certification and effectuation of DADT repeal.

PFAW

DADT repeal on track but not unchallenged, need for vigilance remains

Prior to President Obama’s December 22, 2010 signing of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act, then House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD5) had this to say about the American promise of equality for all.

Nearly six months later, Minority Leader Hoyer’s message about fundamental rights being “self-evident, but not self-executing” rings true. Even as military leaders are working hard to train the troops for repeal implementation, and reporting back success:

Repeal opponents want to disrupt the mission through the FY12 Defense Authorization bill.

  • Section 533 – Slow down repeal by adding the service chiefs to the certification process. A thoughtful process is already in place. Repeal must be certified by the President, the Defense Secretary, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in order for it to go into effect, and even then there is 60-day waiting period prior to the full policy change. These Administration officials are the men tasked with setting military policy. The services chiefs will advise as appropriate, but are ultimately tasked with executing the policies set at the Administration level.
  • Section 534 – Enshrine DOMA within the military and the DOD civilian corps. DOMA is unconstitutional. The courts agree. So do President Obama and the Attorney General. With DOMA’s future, at the very least, up for review, if not wholly in doubt, it would be foolish to reaffirm it now.
  • Section 535 – Restrict the right of chaplains and other military and civilian personnel, and the use of DOD property, to perform marriage ceremonies. When DADT repeal takes effect, even if DOMA remains in place, there is no reason why these personnel and facilities shouldn’t be available to same-sex couples whose marriages are recognized at the state level. We wouldn’t force individual chaplains to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, but we also shouldn’t restrict their ability if they wish to do so.

The Senate version of the bill is expected to be taken up by the Senate Armed Services Committee this week. Please help us make clear to the subcommittee and full committee that we want to keep repeal on track and free of harmful amendments.

Before I go, a special shout out to our friends at the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network for demonstrating that servicemembers are still waiting. We’re all still waiting. We need swift certification and effectuation of DADT repeal.

PFAW

DADT repeal approaches critical turning point

With the House and Senate set to reconvene next week, we’re hearing a lot of talk about what will or won’t be considered, especially when it comes to the FY 2011 Defense authorization bill. PFAW and AAMIA have both supported the inclusion of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, which passed as an amendment on the House floor and in the Senate Armed Services Committee. Now is the time – likely the only time for the foreseeable future – to close the deal on the Senate floor and send repeal to the President’s desk.

Senator McCain, who was behind the bill’s filibuster back in September, is waging a very public campaign to convince Chairman Levin to water down his proposal and drop repeal. Aubrey Sarvis, Executive Director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, put the rumors in perspective.

Sarvis told Roll Call that he expects Levin to bring the defense bill to a vote with the repeal in it, and he called it “premature” to speculate on whether Levin will yield to McCain’s pressure. The most important thing for now, he said, is for proponents of the repeal to take the reins in framing the message on the issue.

“There’s no doubt McCain is trying to frame the debate early, even before Senators return for the lame duck,” Sarvis said. “We’re trying to counter where McCain is out there saying the only bill that can move out there is a watered-down bill. That assertion needs to be pushed back on.”

Senators Lieberman, Udall (Mark), and Gillibrand added their own call to action.

The Senate should act immediately to debate and pass a defense authorization bill and repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ during the lame duck session. The Senate has passed a defense bill for forty-eight consecutive years. We should not fail to meet that responsibility now, especially while our nation is at war. We must also act to put an end to the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy that not only discriminates against but also dishonors the service of gay and lesbian service members.

The National Defense Authorization Act is essential to the safety and well-being of our service members and their families, as well as for the success of military operations around the world. The bill will increase the pay of all service members, authorize needed benefits for our veterans and wounded warriors, and launch military construction projects at bases throughout the country.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates did the same in a recent interview.

I would say that the leaving "don't ask, don't tell" behind us is inevitable. The question is whether it is done by legislation that allows us to do it in a thoughtful and careful way, or whether it is struck down by the courts. Because recent court decisions are certainly pointing in that direction. And we went through a period of two weeks in October where we had four different policy changes in the space of, as I say, two weeks, from striking it down totally, to a stay, to appeal, and so on. So I I think we have the least flexibility. We have the least opportunity to do this intelligently and carefully and with the kind of preparation that is necessary, if the courts take this action as opposed to there being legislation.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal is still very much within our reach. Contact your Senators and Majority Leader Reid, the Department of Defense, and the White House. Thank our supporters and urge them to stand up and speak out. Urge the opposition to change course.

Note that the long-awaited Pentagon study is set to be released on December 1. We have every reason to believe that good news is coming. We must keep fighting.

Click here for more information on the path forward.

PFAW

The Lingering Injustice of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

The Don’t Ask, Don’t tell policy has been denounced by a vast majority of Americans, rejected by the leaders of the military, and, if Republicans decide not to filibuster, will be finally on its way out in this year’s Defense Authorization bill. But, for now, the policy is still driving talented and dedicated Americans away from serving in the armed forces.

The New York Times yesterday interviewed several gay and lesbian current and former West Point cadets on the pressures of serving their country while hiding their identities. Katherine Miller is a 20-year-old cadet who left West Point this month after two years of being unable to follow both the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and the Cadet Honor Code to “not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do.”

“It was a whirlpool of lies — I was violating the honor code every time I socialized,” she said in an interview.

Ms. Miller, who ranked 17th in her West Point class, wrote in her Aug. 9 resignation letter: “I have lied to my classmates and compromised my integrity and my identity by adhering to existing military policy. I am unwilling to suppress an entire portion of my identity any longer.”

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has been releasing a letter a day this week from family members of those who have been harmed by Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to the Pentagon officials charged with surveying straight military spouses about the policy. Pam’s House Blend is posting all the letters.

The parents of an Army sergeant who was fired because of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell wrote:

As parents, this law offends us deeply. It tells us that our gay and lesbian children who are in uniform and putting their lives on the line every day, saving lives, are not good enough to serve their country. The law discriminates against family members, forcing fear and anguish into their lives. Our sons and daughters should be judged on their performance, loyalty to country and bravery, not their sexual orientation.

The partner of a Navy captain who survived the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon wrote:

As the numbness began to wear off, it hit me how incredibly alone I would have been had Joan been killed. The military is known for how it pulls together and helps people; we talk of the "military family," which is a way of saying we always look after each other, especially in times of need. But, none of that support would have been available for me, because under DADT, I didn't exist.

In fact, I would have been one of the last people to know had Joan been killed, because nowhere in her paperwork or emergency contact information had Joan dared to list my name.

Congress and the military may be on the path to repealing DADT…but as they meander down that path, injustices continue to pile up.
 

PFAW

DOD puts breaks on DADT repeal, veterans to lobby Congress

Late Friday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen urged Congress to hold off on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell until the Pentagon completes its policy review. This was followed by a White House statement (cited by Washington Post and other media outlets) deferring to Secretary Gates.

Alexander Nicholson, a former Army interrogator discharged under Don't Ask, Don't Tell and current Executive Director of Servicemembers United, believes that the push for repeal is not the real problem.

This letter from Secretary Gates is a significant cause for concern for those who truly respect and support the gay military community.

PFAW agrees that careful thought must be given to a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But like Alexander Nicholson, we believe just as strongly that legislative action does not depend on the actions of the DOD Working Group. The Working Group was commissioned to study how to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – not whether it should be repealed. That’s the point on which Congress wants to act. They could do so as early as this month when work begins on the DOD Authorization bill. Congress should proceed now so that we are ready for implementation by December 1 – the deadline for completion of the Working Group report.

Aubrey Sarvis, Army veteran and Executive Director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, described this “fierce urgency of now” in his response.

As a result of the Commander in Chief's decision to defer to Secretary Gates' wishes and timeline, gay service members will continue to be treated as second class citizens, and any sense of fairness may well have been delayed for yet another year, perhaps for another decade.

Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign, continues.

[F]ailure to act this year will, without a doubt, continue to send the message to the thousands of gay and lesbian Americans serving their country in silence that their views and concerns, and the impact on them and their families, do not matter to the military leadership, including their Commander-in-Chief.

Advocates will not rest in their push for an end to LGBT discrimination and muzzled military service. In fact, we’re just one week away from the National Veterans Lobby Day. Hundreds of veterans will come to Capitol Hill to stand up and speak out for the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

PFAW

Lift the Ban

Repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) is a prime issue for LGBT lobbyists and activists nationwide--including here at People For. Freedom from discrimination is a basic right that all Americans should enjoy. Repealing DADT is necessary for our nation to restore its core values, especially the principle of equality for all.

On Friday, March 13th, 2009, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) hosted a lobby day and a "Freedom to Serve Rally" on Capitol Hill, and I was pleased to be able to join them. Lobby groups targeted Representatives and Senators who currently oppose the repeal.

As a supporter of repeal, it was difficult for me to understand how Representatives and Senators could refuse to support ending DADT. It was shocking for me to see how many Congress members were completely uninterested in hearing from our group--even those of us who had served in uniform for our country.

Later, I could not hold back the tears when some of our discharged service members, some after even 25 years of service, shared their stories during the Freedom to Serve Rally. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) was a standout among an impressive lineup of speakers. Rep. Norton declared: "I'm done asking! And I'm telling!" We're not asking for repeal any longer, we're telling Congress and President Obama that the time for repeal is now. And this isn't just about fairness and job discrimination, Rep. Norton noted, but it is also about the strength of our military.

Lifting the ban on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is not only necessary for retaining equality, but it's necessary for ensuring that our armed forces remain the best in the world. It is imperative that we join together to make sure that all Americans can serve honestly and openly in our armed forces. Together, we can and we will lift the ban!

PFAW