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Army Vets and HRC kick off ‘DADT’ campaign
Tour designed to educate public about LGBT service members

by Brad Luna

‘I am proud to be a part of this tour because I personally feel obligated to speak out on behalf of the thousands of gay and lesbian service members who have served and continue to serve our country.’
— Eric Alva
former Marine staff sargeant
DES MOINES, IOWA — An event held in early June at the Iowa Historical Society in downtown Des Moines served as the kick-off for the Human Rights Campaign’s “A Legacy of Service,” a national tour focused on the repeal of the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy. The tour features the real-life stories of openly gay and lesbian veterans who have honorably served in the U.S. armed forces.

The event featured Iowa state Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D); Iowa veteran James Taylor; Eric Alva, the first U.S. service member injured in Iraq; Army linguists Alex Nicholson and Jarrod Chlapowski; former Marine Corps officer Antonio Agnone and Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.

“The kick-off of this national tour comes at a time when the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy continues to be heavily scrutinized nationally,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “We felt it was important to come to Iowa and put the issue of repeal front and center with potential caucus-goers. Next January, when the people of Iowa go to pick a candidate for president, we hope they remember the compelling stories of the veterans heard here tonight. The issue of repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ affects the lives of every American, because it ultimately is affecting the national security of our country. It is time for this policy to go into the history books, where it belongs.”

The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy has been put at the forefront of the 2008 presidential election. In recent debates in New Hampshire, both the Democratic and Republican candidates were asked if they supported repeal. All the Democratic candidates signaled their support. None of the Republican candidates voiced support for repealing the policy.

A recent front-page New York Times story further highlighted the national debate centering on repealing the policy. Since that story, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and other newspapers across the country have editorialized for the 2008 presidential candidates to throw their support behind repealing the policy.

“My sacrifice was for the freedom and equality of all Americans, not just certain groups of people,” said Eric Alva, a former Marine staff sergeant and the first U.S. service member wounded in the Iraq war.

“I am proud to be a part of this tour, because I personally feel obligated to speak out on behalf of the thousands of gay and lesbian service members who have served and continue to serve our country with honor and distinction.”

“One day, we are going to end discrimination in our military,” said Antonio Agnone, a former Marine Corps officer and a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” fellow with the Human Rights Campaign.
“And we are going to treat all of our troops with the respect and dignity they deserve. Hopefully, by telling our stories, we can begin that process and begin to move our country forward.”
“We should honor our men and women in uniform by giving them credit for being the trained and disciplined professionals they are,” said Alex Nicholson, a former Army linguist and co-founder of the Call to Duty Tour. “We should honor the institution of the United States military by allowing it to utilize the best and brightest our country has to offer, even if that includes known gay men or women.”

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — the current U.S. policy on gays in the military — is the only law in the country that forces people to be dishonest about their personal lives or be fired or possibly imprisoned. This discriminatory policy hurts military readiness and national security while putting American soldiers fighting overseas at risk. As stated by John M. Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a former supporter of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the lifting of the ban is inevitable. “When that day comes, gay men and lesbians will no longer have to conceal who they are, and the military will no longer need to sacrifice those whose service it cannot afford to lose,” Shalikashvili said.

‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ poses exorbitant costs to the military and nation:

• Nearly 800 specialists with critical skills have been fired from the U.S. military under DADT during the Iraq War, including 323 linguists, 55 of whom specialized in Arabic.
• At least 65,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans are already protecting our homeland (Urban Institute report). More than 10,000 have been discharged under DADT since the policy was implemented in 1993.

• American taxpayers have paid between $250 million and $1.2 billion to investigate, eliminate and replace qualified, patriotic service members who want to serve their country, but can’t because expressing their sexual orientation violates DADT.

The vast majority of Americans support the right of service members to serve openly and honestly, and the majority of service members are comfortable serving alongside gay and lesbian troops.

• Sixty-seven percent of civilians support allowing gays to serve openly (Annenberg 2004 survey). In 2003, Fox News reported 64 percent support, and the Gallup organization 79 percent, on a similar question.

• Nearly three in four troops (73 percent) say they are personally comfortable in the presence of gays and lesbians.

• One in four U.S. troops who served in Afghanistan or Iraq knows a member of their unit who is gay. More than 55 percent of the troops who know a gay colleague said the presence of gays or lesbians in their unit is well-known by others. The DADT policy serves no purpose, as troops already know, and are comfortable serving alongside, gays and lesbians.

• Twenty-four other nations, including Great Britain, Australia, Canada and Israel, already allow open service by gays and lesbians, and none of the 24 report morale or recruitment problems. Nine nations allowing open service have fought alongside American troops in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In addition, 12 nations allowing open service fought alongside U.S. troops in Operation Enduring Freedom.

• Twenty-three of the 26 NATO nations allow gays and lesbians to serve openly and proudly. The United States, Turkey and Portugal are the only NATO nations that forbid gays and lesbians to serve openly in the armed services.

The Human Rights Campaign’s A Legacy of Service national tour is stopping in six cities throughout the country. The tour began in Des Moines, Iowa — home of the first presidential caucus — and will end in New Hampshire, home of the nation’s first presidential primary. To find out more about the tour, visit www.hrc.org/legacyofservice.

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