White House Meeting Heats Up



DADT Repeal
Gauram Raghavan, deputy White House liaison to the Department of Defense, provided a status report on the repeal of the DADT policy. He repeatedly stressed that the core issue is not whether the policy will be changed, only when and how DADT will be ended. An interagency working group is currently conducting forums and surveys at numerous U.S military installations in the United States and abroad. The group will submit its final recommendations to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates by December 1st.

When Equality Federation representatives challenged Raghavan on the content and methodology of the surveys being used to gauge military attitudes on LGBT people, Raghavan said that he understood why LGBT servicemembers have taken offense to some of the questions and have raised concerns about whether confidentiality is properly protected. He assured the audience that the data will only be used to determine how the Pentagon needs to structure its post-DADT training programs to combat stereotypes and fears about LGBT people.

After Mo Baxley, executive director of New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coaltion, questioned why LGBT soldiers continue to be expelled during this process, Raghavan responded that the law is still in effect and therefore must be enforced. He claimed, however, that Gates has taken steps to ensure that the law is no longer abused. For example, military officials are no longer permitted to accept third-party testimony against an accused soldier. In the past, the use of such evidence created situations where jilted lovers or disgruntled colleagues could railroad or blackmail a comrade.

Bostic added that the Pentagon is exploring how qualified soldiers who were expelled under DADT could reenter the armed services. When asked whether policy changes that would permit transgender citizens to serve are also being considered, Bostic said that might be the case in the future and asked for contact information from advocates who can advise the Pentagon on this issue.

Family and Medical Leave, HIV/AIDS Policy
Jeremy Bishop, special assistant to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, explained forthcoming changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act that will benefit LGBT families. Jeffrey Crowley, Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, followed with an overview of the 2010 national strategy on HIV and AIDS.

Marriage Equality
In the meeting's closing stages, Brian Bond, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and liaison to the LGBT community, took questions from the audience. Given recent statements reaffirming President Obama's opposition to same-gender marriage in the wake of a decision striking down California's Proposition 8, Equality Federation members pressed him on the contradictions posed by the president's call for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and his support for civil unions instead of full marriage equality.

Bond asserted, "There is still a lot of work to do" before DOMA will be repealed. "Look at the trouble we're having with ENDA." he added. But Bond conceded that there are inconsistencies in President Obama's positions.

In response, Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, stated, "Respectfully, we need President Obama to push for full inclusion of the LGBT community on ENDA, on marriage — we need the full get, not the lesser get. The highest office in the land sets the tone for the whole country." Bond agreed, but expressed frustration at the often-intense criticism levied, particularly by bloggers, against an administration that is "99 percent supportive of your issues."