Saturday, December 01, 2007

HRC hosts conference with SLDN this morning on how to end DADT

This morning, the Human Rights Campaign held a community forum on efforts to end "don't ask don't tell" in its first floor public meeting room. The meeting was moved to 9 AM so that everyone could go to the Army-Navy game party at Nellie's sports bar at noon (9th and U NW Washington, also the site for the parties from the Reel Affirmations festival this year -- I reminded then that Joe Steffan -- an early plaintiff against the ban -- had sung the National Anthem at the Army Navy game when he was a midshipman at the Naval Academy in the 1980s). There were about forty people present.

There were several speakers from HRC, SLDN, Log Cabin Republicans, and gay veterans groups. The general impression left was that the Marty Meehan bill to repeal DADT has a good chance to be passed eventually, but will take intense effort, possibly for several years. Even with the success of the 2006 mid term elections, Democratic support for lifting the ban will not be sufficient without some help from more "progressive" Republicans. Media accounts -- especially in military papers -- tend to spin the issue as one of concern to "gay activists" and that dilutes support from mainstream America. Congressmen need to know about support for lifting the ban in their own specific districts. Members of Congress tend to fear controversy (especially the angry kind that they remember from 1993) as undermining practical re-election prospects.

The military ban is, in a practical political sense, a bit different from other gay rights issues in that right now there does not seem to be a lot of organized effort to oppose attempts to lift the ban, whereas there has been intense organized lobbying from evangelicals and "conservatives" and "pro family lobbies" to oppose gay marriage and sometimes even gay civil unions (and gay adoptions).

One can differ with this assessment, however, if one looks at a longer view of history and of interconnected issues. Imagine how the debate could go if the draft were reinstated, which may not be probable (Bush has practically instituted a "backdoor draft" with Guards and Reserves), but some strong national service program is likely, and the capability of gays to work in conditions of "forced intimacy" -- especially overseas in primitive conditions with authoritarian or religious (like Muslim) societies could come back again as an ugly (and as I said from the audience, "malignant") argument that can spread to civilian areas. I did make this point from the audience.

In fact, the speakers did note that, while the presidential candidates right now are definitely split on this issue along partisan lines, once there are nominees they will have to move toward the center and may be less able to get away with superficial and embarrassing answers to questions on the ban like those given by Republican candidates in front of Anderson Cooper at CNN's YouTube debates in Florida this week. In particular, while the GOP says it would be dangerous to change the policy during "war time" in is during war that discharges drop rapidly. It seems that the "presence of gays" is detrimental to unit cohesion in peacetime but not so much in combat deployments. It also seems that the skill levels of the British and Israeli militaries, which have lifted their bans, are inconsequential.

Sharra E. Greer, Esq., from SLDN talked about the free speech issues for servicemembers, and these are laid out in SLDN's "Survival Guide." Generally, servicemembers must be out of uniform and be very clear that they are speaking for themselves, and must not disclose their own personal sexuality. The Internet (with search engines enabling commanders to find self-outings by servicemembers on line) has led to many discharges. Also, members of some foreign militaries (especially Britain) have been told not to discuss the American "don't ask don't tell" publicly because of what are perceived to be adverse political risks in international coalitions deployed overseas. That's interesting.

Greer mentioned the two cases in the First and Ninth Circuits, again challenging the constitutionality of DADT, despite the losses at the appellate levels in the 1990s (it would normally take one win in an appeals court to get a hearing before the Supreme Court). She indicated that the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision on sodomy laws (in the civilian world) may change the constitutional landscape. It should be noted, however, that the Lawrence ruling does not by itself overturn UCMJ 125, which is still legally in effect (SLDN reference).

Later today, I went down to the Mall to see the 12000 Flags. They are all in one area immediately east of 14th street. In daylight, they are easy to see from the Smithsonian Metro Station (I could not see them at night at all). I had used up my disk space on my preferred camera, so I used the single-use camera that will have to be developed. I asked a few visitors posing for pictures among the flags if they knew what the flags meant, and they didn't, so I told them. They had thought this was a 9/11 exhibit.

Update: 12/02

There was a brief Chaplain's service on the Mall Sunday Morning, as the gathering fought off a little sleet from a winter storm that had drifted farther south than predicted, but well before the heavy rains due that afternoon with the warm front. I got the flag pictures on the diskette digital camera, though without sun.

In 1993, early in the debates on the ban spawned by Clinton's proposal, I happened to attend a service at the Naval Academy chapel, and a female chaplain gave a sermon called "Come and See" (based on doubting Thomas, as I remember). In 1968, while in Army Basic, I met the base chaplain and got to play the organ for a couple of services in April (right after the King assassination). Funny how these long memories come back.

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