In his first State of the Union address, President Barack Obama announced that he wants “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to be lifted by the end of 2010. He pledged, “This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.”
The president’s remarks were welcomed by national LGBT civil rights groups — many of which have grown increasingly critical of the administration’s lack of attention to the issue in its first year.
“We applaud the president tonight for his call to Congress to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ this year,” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a national, non-profit legal services and policy organization dedicated to ending the gay ban. “We very much need a sense of urgency to get this done in 2010.”
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT organization, immediately unveiled plans for its new “Voices of Honor” campaign to strengthen support for DADT’s repeal. According to HRC, this new effort “will organize veterans across the country, generate media coverage and build focused campaigns in key states that will be critical to the final votes in the House and Senate.”
“The Commander-in-Chief sent a clear message tonight that in a time of war, what matters is that our men and women get the job done — not whether they’re gay or straight,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “Our ‘Voices of Honor’ campaign will bring about much needed action to end this law that the vast majority of Americans oppose.”
Surveys overwhelmingly support Solmonese’s assertion — attitudes toward LGBT troops serving openly have changed dramatically in the 17 years since Congress passed DADT. Polls now consistently show that Americans, including a majority of conservatives, are ready to see the law go. Younger generations of service members — who make up the bulk of the U.S. military — already realize that job performance is not linked to sexual orientation, according to a Zogby poll.
Close to 190 members of the House of Representatives are cosponsors of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (HR 1283), the bill that repeals “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and replaces it with a non-discrimination policy. Sarvis wants to see the proposal attached to the administration’s defense budget, which is currently being drafted. He said this “is probably the only and best-moving bill where DADT can be killed this year.”
In response to the president’s call, Sen. John McCain fired off a same-night statement supporting the gay ban.
“This successful policy has been in effect for over 15 years, and it is well understood and predominantly supported by our military at all levels,” the Arizona Republican said. “We have the best trained, best equipped, and most professional force in the history of our country, and the men and women in uniform are performing heroically in two wars. At a time when our Armed Forces are fighting and sacrificing on the battlefield, now is not the time to abandon the policy.”
“Sen. McCain said tonight that DADT is ‘successful.’ It would be a mistake to think this law is working,” Sarvis countered. “Nearly a quarter of our troops, according to a Zogby poll, know who is gay and who is not. This is a new age, Senator. Even weekly churchgoers and conservatives want to see the law go. In addition, no law or policy is successful if it hurts military readiness at a time of two wars.”
The first-ever Senate hearing on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is expected to happen later this month.
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> Lambda Legal has resolved its lawsuit against the Johnson City (Tenn.) Police Department, stemming from a 2007 public sex sting operation that netted 40 arrests. Deviating from its usual procedure, the Department issued a press release on the sting that included photos of the arrested men. The local news ran the story prominently with the arrested men’s pictures and addresses. According to reports, Police Chief John Lowry agreed to adopt a nondiscrimination policy for officers and to provide training sessions to improve relations between the department and minority groups, including the LGBT community.
> On Jan. 22, the Hawaii state Senate passed a bill that would legalize civil unions. With an 18-7 vote, the margin is wide enough to override a potential veto by the state’s Gov. Linda Lingle. The bill will next be considered by the state House.
> Superior Court Judge Donald Mitchell sentenced 41-year-old Donzell Francis to 17 years and eight months in state prison for his September 2007 sexual assault of a transgender woman in the Tenderloin district. At the Jan. 25 hearing Mitchell cited Francis’ “complete lack of remorse” for the attack in levying the maximum prison sentence. Francis is also a suspect in four other sexual assaults.
> The Kentucky Supreme Court has granted a separated lesbian couple joint custody of a child they raised before splitting up. The ruling reversed a Kentucky Court of Appeals decision and allows Arminta Jane Mullins, who acted as a “de facto parent” with birth mother Phyliss Dianne Picklesimer, to share custody of the child conceived through artificial insemination when the couple were together. The pair filed for a joint custody agreement in 2006.
> Miami’s City Commission has updated its 1992 Human Rights ordinance to include protections for transgender citizens. Commissioners also voted to create a city Human Rights Commission. “This is about being again at the forefront, at the cutting edge of these issues,” said openly gay Commissioner Victor Diaz, Jr. “So when people say ‘Gee, where should I live? Where do I feel safest? Where do I feel I can express myself and raise children and love my partner and contribute to my community without any fear of discrimination?’ they say Miami Beach.
> Just over a month into the new year, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund has already endorsed 36 openly LGBT candidates for 2010 races, with dozens more to come before November. The newly-endorsed candidates include two, running in Michigan and Ohio, who would become their state’s only openly LGBT state legislators. In Arkansas, Jay Barth could become that state’s first openly gay state senator, and in Alabama State Rep. Patricia Todd will be fighting to keep her seat. This is Todd’s first re-election campaign since she became the state’s first-ever openly LGBT elected official in a nail-biter of a race in 2006.
> MALAWI — A day after their traditional engagement on Dec. 27, couple Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, were arrested and charged with “unnatural offenses” and “indecent practices between males.” In this conservative African nation these charges carry a potential prison sentence of up to 14 and 5 years, respectively. Since their arrest, the pair — who have repeatedly been denied bail — have been beaten by other inmates and subjected to invasive medical exams without their consent. International human rights groups are following the situation closely and working on the men’s behalf. : :
This article was published in the Feb. 6 – Feb. 19 print edition.