Monday, August 18, 2008

NATIONAL: Congress Hears Testimony To Lift 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

(previously published here at

By: Heather J. Chin, The Bulletin

A House Armed Services subcommittee heard testimony yesterday in support of ending the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which bans openly gay and lesbian individuals from serving in any branch military. This is the first congressional hearing to be convened on this issue since the policy was enacted 15 years ago.

The hearing is aimed as a preliminary effort before the proposed repeal is pushed forward to educate both Congress and the public about the negative effects of the current policy both on the ground and in the ability of the military as a whole to utilize the best and most skilled people for the job.

H.R. 1246, or the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, seeks to repeal the ban and allow homosexuals to serve openly in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. It is co-sponsored by 134 members of Congress and supported by many retired military personnel, including former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman John Shalikashvili and over 50 retired generals and admirals.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., and 121 co-sponsors first introduced the Act in 2006, but didn't push it forward since a presidential veto was certain to result. House Democrats - plus five Republicans - plan a full presentation of the bill in the next Congress, when there is a new president.

In a July 8 interview with Military Times, Sen. Barack Obama has said he supports a repeal in that "at a time when we are pressed, we should have an attitude of 'all hands on deck'" and "everybody who is willing to lay down their lives on behalf of the United States, and can do so effectively ... should have the opportunity to do so."

Sen. John McCain opposes repeal, maintaining in a letter to Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a gay rights group, that to do so would enable "the polarization of personnel and breakdown of unit effectiveness" and "elevate the interests of a minority of homosexual service members above those of their units."

In the 15 years since "don't ask, don't tell" has been in effect, 12,342 service men and women have been discharged, according to Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and the General Accounting Office, including those with specialized skills and at least 58 Arabic linguists as of 2007. That amount peaked at 1,273 in 2001 and then fell to about half that after Sept. 11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released on July 19 found that 75 percent of respondents said openly gay people should be allowed to serve. That number was 62 percent in early 2001 and 44 percent in 1993.

Although no Pentagon representatives will speak, testimony will be heard from openly gay former Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, who was the first U.S. soldier wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Navy Capt. Joan Darrah, a retired and openly lesbian servicemember who was on duty in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, and retired Army Maj. Gen. Vance Coleman, who is heterosexual.

The controversial law served as a compromise to then-President Bill Clinton's attempt to fulfill his 1992 campaign promise to allow openly homosexual men and women serve in the U.S. military. It was created by then-chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sam Nunn, D-Ga, and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell.

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

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