Momentum in the movement

With more than 100 congressional cosponsors, the bill that will overturn the military's "don't ask, don't tell" is closer than ever to passing. Here's how that will happen

BY Advocate.com Editors

February 03 2006 1:00 AM ET

In its ongoing
series “Movement in Crisis,” The
Advocate
has reported that our community's
advocacy groups have often failed to step up to the
plate and get the job done. The magazine's criticisms were
sometimes well-justified. In a recent cover story it
suggested that the movement to overturn the
military’s “don't ask, don't tell”
policy is “stalled,” however, missed the
mark by a mile.

Since March 2005
the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network has organized
109 bipartisan members of Congress in support of a bill to
repeal the military's ban—legislation sponsored
by SLDN and introduced by Rep. Marty Meehan. Our
original goal for the legislation's first year—in
light of an unfriendly Congress—was to secure
40 cosponsors; some of the leading lobbyists in our
community suggested even that might be a stretch. The
response, we now know, has been more positive than we could
have hoped for.

We got it done by
bringing together veterans and activists, conservatives
and progressives, Democrats and Republicans to fight
continued discrimination in our armed forces, our
nation's largest employer. Far from being
“stalled,” the movement to repeal
“don't ask, don't tell” is an issue that
resonates across political ideologies.

Rep. Wayne
Gilchrest, a Maryland Republican who is a Vietnam War
veteran, said, “When this issue comes up,
members who believe that gays shouldn't be in the
military are now more hesitant to voice their opinion. Many
of us who feel the other way have come out of the
closet, so to speak.” Republicans like
Representatives Gilchrest, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen,
Christopher Shays, and Jim Kolbe can feel comfortable
supporting repeal because SLDN has worked hard to make
this issue about lost talent and national security,
two issues near and dear to conservative leaders.

There is still
work to be done. We need more cosponsors in the House and
we need to introduce similar legislation in the Senate. We
are poised to do both and our success so far portends
good things.

Why are we so
optimistic? The military is bleeding personnel, America
needs us, and the public agrees with us. And SLDN gets
things done. Not many LGBT organizations can say they
sponsored a law in Congress that was ultimately signed
by President Bush, but we can. SLDN worked hard behind
the scenes on passage of a law requiring the Pentagon to
provide Congress data relating to all discharges from
the military, including gay separations. The
legislation is assisting Congress in assessing how
military separations are impacting military readiness, and
it helps highlight the immense loss of talent at the
hands of “don't ask, don't tell.”

Our strategy
isn't limited to Congress. SLDN also filed a federal
constitutional challenge to “don't ask, don't
tell” a year ago on behalf of 12 veterans of
the war on terror. That litigation isn't
“stalled” at all. It is poised to break
down the federal government's only law mandating
firing gay Americans. It is also poised, we believe, to be
the Supreme Court's test case on gays in the military.

SLDN is also
continually shining a spotlight on just how
counterproductive the military's ban can be. This past year
we also publicized a new report from the Congressional
Research Service calling into question the continued
constitutionality of “don't ask, don't tell.”
We also worked to obtain a new report from the Government
Accountability Office that estimated the cost of the
ban at more than $191 million.

Thanks to
research funded in part by SLDN, we now know there are 1
million gay veterans in the United States and 65,000 lesbian
and gay Americans currently serving in our armed
forces.

SLDN has been the
leader in orchestrating some of our revered generals
and admirals in coming out or coming out in support of
repeal. The tidal wave keeps growing.

Most of us
understand that civil rights do not occur overnight. They
result from careful, long-term planning. In 1993 when
Congress passed the current law prohibiting open
service many in our community said the game was over
and we had lost. They went back to their own work. SLDN,
however, stayed and fought. Today, the results of our
struggle are undeniable.

With a budget of
just over $2 million this year, SLDN has put together a
record that rivals that of organizations three, five, and 10
times our size. The momentum we have built—and
continue to generate—is breathtaking.

The [Boston] Phoenix recently wrote that
“not since 1993 has the gays-in-the-military
debate garnered this much attention.” The
Nation,
in profiling SLDN, said, “It's amazing
how much this small...organization has accomplished
already.” And Jeff McGowan, author of Major
Conflict,
wrote that “as I have gone across the
country speaking about being a gay man in the
military, I never miss an opportunity to sing the
praises of this amazing organization. Over the years
their smart, consistent, and diligent approach has
decisively moved this issue forward. When gays are
allowed to serve, a large measure of the praise for
making it happen must go to [SLDN] for their efforts. They
are the unsung heroes who spend long hours doing the grunt
work of persuading our representatives, one at a time,
to overturn this policy.”

We welcome The
Advocate’s continued coverage of gays in the
military. And we celebrate our allies that have come
forward since SLDN was founded, including veterans in
the Call to Duty Tour, the Center for the Study of
Sexual Minorities in the Military, American Veterans for
Equal Rights, and others. We are proud to lead a
winning coalition that will usher in a major watershed
moment in our community's history.

While we
encourage The Advocate to continue challenging all
LGBT organizations to deliver better results, to do so
fairly it needs to weigh all the evidence and not jump
to dire pronouncements. The state of our movement is
strong, and keeps growing stronger.

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