The Fight's Not Over



Started in 1993 as a legal aid service primarily for gay soldiers who lacked the funds to muster their own defense in DADT cases, SLDN also has become a formidable political lobby to end the ban. The group’s executive director, Aubrey Sarvis, doesn’t think the need for organizations like SLDN will disappear if repeal happens.

“Like any major federal statute that goes off the books, there will be a period of oversight to ensure that open service becomes a reality,” he says. “And the truth is that [openly gay service members] will not have full equality.”

Part of the disparity is a result of the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that prohibits federal recognition of same-sex couples. Like same-sex partners of other federal government employees, partners of gay and lesbian soldiers serving openly would be denied many of the same benefits afforded to spouses of heterosexual colleagues—namely health care—just as they are now.

Sarvis also sees his organization playing a watchdog role similar to the one civil rights groups historically adopted as racially discriminatory laws were struck down decades ago. “There are people within the Pentagon who will resist and will try to put up roadblocks,” he says. “Our job, post-repeal, is to knock down that resistance.”

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, another advocacy group in the DADT repeal movement, says he plans to stay in his position—at least until he sees an end to the policy. His goal is to build a “strong, vibrant, connected, and cohesive” working environment for gay service members—one in which he would consider actively participating.

Discharged in 2002, Nicholson, a former Army human intelligence collector, says he would likely go to law school and return to the military in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Nicholson never set out to become an activist and doesn’t see a future for himself in the behind-the-scenes deal making of Washington, D.C.’s gay rights establishment—one that has left him exasperated.

“Sausage making is always a nasty process, but there is really no excuse for the fraud, self-promotion, exploitation, sheer incompetence, and unethical behavior that I’ve seen in this factory,” he says. “In the military there’s such a strong sense of ethics, integrity, and honor that you just don’t see in many other processes and institutions elsewhere. I can’t wait to be a part of it again.”

Reenlisting has its uncertainties—and disappointments. How does one repair damage to a career hijacked under DADT? Almy, for instance, is now four years behind his peers in terms of rank, and he would have likely been promoted to lieutenant colonel had he not been discharged.

“Returning would have its ups and downs,” he says. “I will certainly have a lot of attention on me without even opening my mouth. But I hope I can be a positive example of a good officer thrown out under a horrible law.” 

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