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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: DON’T WAIT!

Since last week we've known Iraq war veteran Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA) would yesterday take up Sponsorship of the bill to repeal the military ban on homosexuality and end the armed forces policy of "Don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue." In shorthand we've been calling it the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," but really it's an effort to put to rest a 16 year long cold war over how best to integrate into the military patriotic gays and lesbians who want to serve their country. I am a conscientious objector, myself, but I grew up in the shadow of some very honorable men in my family that served this country with distinction.

Two years after becoming a citizen of the United States, my great grandfather eagerly set back out for Europe to serve his new homeland in World War I—and he served with such bravery, that he earned the very distinctive Silver Star. His medal and discharge papers hung on my wall all through Junior High and High School, and I am very proud of him.

My Grandfather—one of the single most honorable men I've ever known in my life, the most compassionate and color-blind individual I've ever encountered—followed his father's example in serving in the Pacific Theatre in World War II. His son, my favorite Uncle Greg was a helicopter pilot shot down in Vietnam and remains in service to this very day down in Virginia on the gorgeous Chesapeake bay. My mother's father bravely fought for the UK in the Mediterranean as a native of Malta… that is until he was court-marshaled for being LESS THAN sensitive toward rebellious captured Italians under his care—in what may have been the most famous bathroom fight since Casino Royale. We're hot-blooded/hot-headed people, what can I say?

So even though I would not enlist myself, I have so much respect for those who do serve our country. I don't agree with the situations that our Government gets us into, but at the same time, I don't blame those that are risking their lives every day to protect America's interests all over the world. This blog is called Ameriqueer, for God sake! I'm not a flag-waver, but I am pretty patriotic when it comes down to it! There are many reasons why people go into the military as well—not because they have some burning desire to go shoot people, but more likely because of the great life opportunities that the military offers, and the distinction of divorcing yourself from your comfortable life to serve the country which has given so much to you.

A lot of this sounds like garbage to some of my readers, I'm sure, but bear with me. My hippie and Quaker friends are power-scrolling down to the next article, but before you blow this off, let me tell you that the end of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' could be the single most important piece of Federal Legislation for the LGBT Community and our allies to get behind NOW. No, not because we all can't wait to get flack suits and rifles and go kill some Nazi scum, but because this effort could be the crucial turning point in the LGBT Community's relationship with Congress. Taking a break from HRC's Voices of Honor Tour, Jarrod Chlapowski of Servicemembers United said this morning when we talked "This really is the proverbial low-hanging fruit of the gay rights movement." He's right. The most recent polls indicate that of all of our goals as a Community, the end of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is the only one on which the vast majority of Americans from any conceivable demographic group are with us.

According to the June 5, 2009 Gallup Poll, Americans as a whole support the end of the discriminatory policy 69%. However, it gets better: 82% of Democrats, 67% of Independents and 58% of Republicans support overturning the military ban. Even 60% of those that attend church weekly support repeal! Those 65 and older support the repeal by 60%, and as age goes down, support of repeal goes up. Every region of the nation supports ending the policy, with 71+% support in the West, East and Midwest, and 57% in the South. Not a single demographic polled was less than 50% in favor of allowing gays and lesbians serve openly in the military.

"In general, Americans tend to be more supportive when it comes to narrow equity questions like serving in the military or collecting federal benefits," Said Peter A. Brown,  assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in response to the April 2009 Quinnipiac Poll which found Americans wanting to overturn the policy 56-37. In that poll, 50% of those with family in the military believed in overturning the policy, but those IN military households rejected it 56%; white Catholics rejected it 64% of the time, those with College Degrees supported repeal by 64%, no degree by 52%, and all income levels were over 50%.

Last night, Rep. Patrick Murphy appeared on Rachel Maddow's show to promote his bill, H.R. 1283, The Military Readiness Enhancement Act, to end 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' for good. When Rachel asked him about whether or not there were any good arguments among opponents of the Act, Murphy replied "I think that would be a stretch, to be honest with you Rachel." While Rep. Patrick Murphy needs 218 votes to pass the Act, he only has 152 cosponsors (Military veteran Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA) just signed on as cosponsor yesterday), and is struggling for more. He says that he isn't just debating those who are against the bill itself, but is putting pressure on those who have given assurances of a 'yes' vote but have yet to sign on as a co-sponsor, saying the time to be cautious is over. "We need every able-bodied qualified American to serve their country." This is a National Security Issue for a military whose resources have been stretched to their maximum and yet—despite a 'Stop-Loss' policy that is sending uniformed soldiers on 2 or 3 extra tours of duty—The equivalent of 3 combat brigades have been kicked out under this policy. Qualifications and dedication should be the military criteria. "That person to your left or your right—you don't care what their sexual orientation is, what their race or religion is—you care if they can fire an M4 machine rifle or kick down a door in Baghdad or Kabul." 

"It has arguments that are appealing to conservatives that no other issue has," said Jarrod Chlapowski about the Military Readiness Enhancement Act being championed by Murphy, "If we can have a unified coalition for repeal, everything else will come very quickly." LGBT people need to support the repeal of DADT to show we're serious about our freedom and liberty, "to paraphrase Admiral Steinman, we cannot as a community demand our rights as equal citizens under the law while eschewing the same responsibilities." However, regardless of how we feel about America's military policy, we need to put great effort into getting this bill passed because our first ever Equality bill passed through both houses of congress and signed into law would have a momentous effect on our movement. "[Lesbians and] gays would not vote against a congressman if he or she supported repeal." A lawmaker that votes in favor of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act shows promise and may be more supportive of other subsequent efforts for Equality. This could be our Congressional litmus test.

Lesbians and gays and their allies must send handwritten letters to their Representatives urging them to cosponsor Murphy's MREA bill, H.R. 1283 in order to see us get our first chance to open the floodgates of equality. Writing your lawmaker is "surprisingly effective," says Chlapowski. "We need to help Congress feel comfortable supporting repeal, and we can only do that through constituent support." However, if you want to do more to see this dream become a reality, sway everyone in your life to support this repeal and write their lawmakers to urge cosponsoring Murphy's bill.

You can also help support Chlapowski's organization, Servicemembers United, whose goal is to travel the nation encouraging support and action on the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' "SU does a lot of that on the hill and a ton of grassroots mobilization, but we need funds to keep going… our monthly operating expenses are $5000 for overhead and 3 staff. Anything over 5K goes towards program expenses and not salaries. We really put everything we have into this movement, so literally any donation directly affects our ability for progress." Chlapowski says that if donations were to increase to a level that budget were not really an issue, Servicemembers United could reach out to Americans in ways it never had been able to before. For the organization, whose speakers include Lt. Dan Choi, Jeff Carnes, Stephen Vossler, and Chlapowski's partner Alex Nicholson, a dream would be "to have events simultaneously occur nationwide, to create a tremendously aggressive media blitz, and to create a state of the art networking site to bring web 3.0 to the issue." Extra help could change the conversation. "Ads, commercials, and interviews changing the language around the isssue to show that this affects the entire military, and not just the gay and lesbian population."

Besides monetary donation, Servicemembers United could use the help of people connected to the service industry that would be able to provide in-kind donations. "In-kind gifts [such as] hotel rooms, flights and CPA services [could really help the movement." You can contact Servicemembers United at info@servicemembersunited.org, and be sure to find and write to your Representative at house.gov!

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