Supporters of GLBT Patriots Push Back Over DADT Oversight Hearing

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday April 1, 2011

An oversight hearing chaired by an opponent to the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell has anti-gay groups excited at the prospect of hampering the anti-gay law's retirement. But supporters of gay and lesbian patriots are standing firm.

The oversight hearing was scheduled to take place April 1. In advance of the hearing, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) issued a March 30 press release, published in its entirely at GLBT news site WGLB

"Chaired by repeal opponent Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), the Military Personnel Subcommittee also comprises a number of members who have voted for repeal, such as Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU), Rep. Robert Brady (D-PA), Rep. David Loebsack (D-IA), Rep. Chellie Pingree, (D-ME), and Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA)," the release noted.

"This hearing represents an update from these military leaders on how the Department of Defense is preparing for repeal, including the current training efforts in each of the services. Each branch is currently undergoing the third step of training, which targets the bulk of the force, and this training has progressed as a non-event.

"But repeal opponents will stop at nothing to slow down the repeal process," added the release. "Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness has already riled up the opposition, saying, 'Our goal is to convince members of Congress that they must intervene with well-informed questions and an appropriate statement to the Administration summarized in three words: "Not so fast!" ' "

"The service men and women harmed by this discriminatory law--a number of whom will be seated in the hearing room--know better," added the release. "They know we must keep moving forward to finally get this law off the books. SLDN is actively pushing back on the opposition, defending our clients and service members and urging a timely repeal."

Another release from SLDN on April 1 included a statement from the group's executive director.

"Today's hearing represents a shameless and transparent attempt by a few repeal opponents to delay, defund, and derail the timely certification and full repeal of the discriminatory 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' law," charged SLDN head Aubrey Sarvis. "Mr. Wilson knows better. There was nothing undemocratic about last year's vote to repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' The measure passed both houses of Congress on a strong bi-partisan vote."

Gay conservative group the Log Cabin Republicans filed a federal lawsuit against DADT that culminated in a Sept. 9, 2010, finding that the anti-gay law violates the United States Constitution. The terms of the law, enacted in 1993 under then-president Bill Clinton, are still in effect, and stipulate that unless gay and lesbian servicemembers conceal their sexual orientation, they are subject to discharge from the service. The government has appealed the ruling.

To date, and despite a Congressional vote for repeal last December, the law remains in effect. Barring final court action, the law will only be repealed once the President, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of Defense all certify that the United States Armed Forces are ready for the change. Even then, the repeal will be final until an additional sixty days have passed.

"I commend Dr. Stanley, the Repeal Implementation Team, and the service chiefs for clearly demonstrating--today and throughout this process--their commitment to carrying out the will of the Congress, the President, and the American people in a responsible and thoughtful way, Sarvis continued.

"We shouldn't be delaying certification as some out of touch House members suggested today. Instead, Congress should encourage the Pentagon to get on with the task they were given last year. After all, they've already had 100 days to certify."

Meantime, GLBT patriots are still at risk of discharge, the SLDN release warned. And gay and lesbian patriots are still putting their lives at risk for their country--and sometimes losing their lives in battle overseas.

A joint press release from Courage Campaign and Outserve announced the posting of a video in which the parents of a fallen U.S. soldier offered testimony about their son's sacrifice.

"As the military prepares to certify and implement repeal of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy, OutServe, the underground network of over 2,900 active LGBT military personnel, and Courage Campaign, a 750,000 member progressive organizing network today released a new video from the parents of US Army Corporal Andrew Wilfahrt, a gay soldier killed in combat last month in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan," the release said.

"He thought he'd go, so someone else with family and children wouldn't have to go," Jeff Wilfahrt said of his son. "His aptitude tests were off the charts... he was a soldiers' soldier, and all of his commanders were struck by him."

"The stories we've heard from people in his unit indicate that he kept some people calm when things got rough," the fallen young man's mother, Lori Wilfahrt, said. "People in his unit knew he was gay... and they didn't care."

"To date, nearly 6,000 Americans have been killed in the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," noted the release. "In addition to Corporal Wilfahrt, at least three LGBT service men and women have died in combat since 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell's' conditional repeal was signed into law on December 22, 2010."

"Corporal Wilfahrt epitomized the courage, dedication and selflessness that gay and straight troops alike have shown in battle since our nation's founding," openly gay veteran and Outserve spokesperson Jonathan Hopkins said.

"Ultimately Corporal Wilfahrt's story is not about differences or politics, but the values that unite all who wear the proud uniform of our nation--loyalty to each other, love of country, and the willingness to give their lives in its defense," added Hopkins, who has seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We are so grateful to the Wilfahrts for their service to our country and for sharing their powerful story," Rick Jacobs, the founder and head of Courage Campaign, stated. "While Andrew's loss leaves a void in his unit and family, we all honor his legacy by ensuring the nation for which Corporal Wilfahrt made the ultimate sacrifice lives up to its highest ideals--to include full equality for LGBT Americans, both inside and outside of the military."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.