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First Hearing in
15 Years on DADT Held Wednesday

First Hearing in
15 Years on DADT Held Wednesday

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The first hearing in 15 years on the U.S. military's controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy prohibiting gay and lesbian soldiers from serving openly was held in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The first hearing in 15 years on the military's controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy prohibiting gay and lesbian soldiers from serving openly was held in the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday. The hearing before the Military Personnel Subcommittee, part of the House Armed Services Committee, was the first since "don't ask, don't tell" was enacted in 1993. The hearing featured five witnesses, three in favor of repealing the ban (retired Army major general Vance Coleman, retired Navy captain Joan Darrah, and retired Marine staff sergeant Eric Alva) and two in favor of keeping it (Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness; and retired Army sergeant major Brian Jones).

Coleman led off by speaking of his experience as an African-American in segregated units in the 1950s. Darrah spoke of the fear she felt under "don't ask, don't tell," knowing that no matter how good she was at her job, someone could out her at any point and she'd be fired. She recalled being in the Pentagon just minutes before a plane struck it on 9/11, killing several of her colleagues, and how her partner, not listed among her emergency contacts or in any other paperwork, would've been the last to know about Darrah were she among the casualties too.

For his part, Alva, the first American soldier wounded in the Iraq war (and a former Advocate cover man) told of how his colleagues, who knew he was gay, tended to him after he stepped on a land mine. Far from being a threat to unit cohesion -- one of the underlying assumptions of "don't ask, don't tell" -- his sexual orientation, Alva said, didn't matter at all when his fellow soldiers came to his rescue.

On the opposing side, Donnelly articulated various complaints with ending "don't ask, don't tell," including the notion that open service by gays would lower the morale of those members of the military who oppose it. She also referred to a certain "passive-aggressive" look that some gay people give heterosexuals. Jones, meanwhile, expressed concerns about soldiers of the same sex huddling together "skin to skin" to stay warm in freezing temperatures. In those situations, he said, "arousal" would not be acceptable.

Overall, subcommittee members seemed sympathetic to the plight of gay soldiers, and several, like Rep. Susan A. Davis (D-California), the subcommittee's chairwoman, clearly called for repeal. Other members seemed less inclined to overturn the ban, like Rep. John M. McHugh (R-N.Y.).

"By and large, I thought the majority of the members, the majority of the [witnesses], focused on the real issues," Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said afterward. "We had differences, but by the end of the day, it was a terrific beginning for us in the House and the Senate."

Sarvis added that he expects more hearings on "don't ask, don't tell" in both chambers of the next Congress starting in 2009 and expressed his belief that the policy will be repealed at that time. "I believe the votes are gettable and that this thing can be won, and I think it can be won in the next Congress," Sarvis said. A House bill to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" currently has 143 cosponsors. A companion bill in the Senate has not yet been introduced. (The Advocate)

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