On May 11, UNC-Chapel Hill student Sara Isaacson was on Capitol Hill meeting with North Carolina Congressional offices to discuss her recent ROTC discharge by the government for being gay. Isaacson was attending the university on a full Army ROTC scholarship, which the government now says she must pay back. The amount she owes, they contend, is $79,265.14.
“Our first meeting this morning went very well. I was able to share my story and tell them about my dream to follow my grandfather and become an Army doctor. I think it was beneficial for them to hear it directly from me,” Isaacson said. “I believe in living up to the military’s core values of integrity. If I could serve openly and honestly, I’d seriously consider returning to school today and serving my country after graduation.”
In a January letter to the commander of her Army ROTC program, Isaacson stated she is a lesbian. For being honest about her sexual orientation, she was discharged in March under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” School officials have told her she will need to repay the government the nearly $80,000 in student funding provided by her ROTC scholarship.
“Sara’s story is the latest reminder of why ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ needs to be repealed now,” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. “‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ strips the military of talented young people like Sara for simply being who they are — it’s not only discrimination but it’s weakening our national security. We need Congress and the president to voice their support for ending this law this year.”
SLDN officials say the group is contacted by a number of ROTC students every year who are impacted by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” According to Legal Director Aaron Tax, if service members are deemed to be coming out as gay or lesbian “voluntarily,” they can expect the military to recoup against them on a pro-rated basis. This is a consequence of the federal court decision rendered in Hensala v. Department of the Air Force.
> The Maryland state Department of Budget and Management has decided to make the Employee and Retiree Health and Welfare Benefits Program inclusive of same-sex couples who have legal marriages performed in other states. The policy goes into effect July 1. Maryland does not offer same-sex marriages.
> The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability will meet June 10 and 11 to discuss the ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men. The federal rule was adopted in 1983 as an early response to the AIDS epidemic. Opponents say the ban is unnecessary with modern methods of testing for blood safety.
> Stonewall Democrats has launched ElectEquality (www.electequality.org), its 2010 election program to give LGBT and allied Democrats a way to coordinate their energies on behalf of pro-equality candidates. An online vote running through June 18 will help narrow a shortlist of 30 candidates; the top five vote getters will be included and Stonewall PAC will select the other five. The final 10 will be the beneficiaries of a coordinated online and offline campaign. Among those up for the vote is North Carolina U.S. Senate candidate Elaine Marshall.
> Sen. Al Franken and 22 cosponsors have introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act which would prohibit discrimination in schools on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. The Senate version is a companion bill to H.R. 4530, introduced by Rep. Jared Polis in the House early this year.
> Staunch anti-LGBT Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) is resigning from the U.S. House in the wake of an affair with a member of his staff. Souder has scored a zero on every Human Rights Campaign scorecard since entering Congress in 1995. He has consistently voted against employment protections, hate crimes laws, increases in HIV/AIDS funding and measures extending equality to same-sex couples.
> The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network has named Danielle Smith of Topsham, Maine, as its Student Advocate of the Year. In addition to serving as Mt. Ararat High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance president and Southern Maine’s Jump-Start leader, Smith has regularly been quoted in newspapers and appeared on news broadcasts to talk about issues involving the rights all students have to an education in a safe and inclusive environment.
> On May 17, the fifth annual International Day Against Homophobia was commemorated by individuals, agencies and governments around the globe. The first IDAHO was observed in 2005, the result of a French-led effort to raise awareness of and campaign for LGBTQ people worldwide.
> Portugal’s conservative President Anibal Cavaco Silva reluctantly ratified a law allowing gay marriage, making his country the sixth in Europe to let same-sex couples wed. Silva said he did not veto the bill because majority liberal lawmakers would only overturn his decision. : :