Thursday, June 14, 2007

Human Rights Campaign Launches ‘Legacy of Service’ Tour (Part I of series)

On Tuesday night, the nation’s largest gay civil rights organization kicked off its “A Legacy of Service” campaign at the Iowa Historical Society in downtown Des Moines. The Human Rights Campaign chose to begin its tour against the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in Iowa because of its lead-off status in the presidential campaign.

“The eyes of the nation and the eyes of the world are on Iowa as we elect our next president,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the HRC. “As you already saw in the presidential debates, GLBT issues are going to be a part of the discussion as they were four years ago.”

The kick-off for the tour comes days after the Democratic and Republican presidential debates aired live on CNN, where the issue of repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" took center stage. When asked by the moderator, Wolf Blitzer, to raise their hands if they support the repeal of the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military, all of the Democrats raised their hands. Not a single Republican candidate spoke in support of repealing the policy. “What this really says to us is the battle could not be more clearly drawn as to what’s at stake,” said Solmonese.

Upon entering the Iowa Historical Building, attendees were greeted with the presidential images contrasting the party views on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

After praising Iowa for its latest legislative efforts supporting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, namely amending the Iowa Code to extend civil rights protections, Solmonese introduced state Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs (see pic).

Gronstal delivered a prepared speech that illustrated Iowa’s historical accomplishments in civil rights. Touting this year’s accomplishments during the legislative session, Gronstal emphasized how proud he was to have helped pass the gay rights bill. “No citizen should lose their job because of their sex, race, religion, or creed.” As for the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy, he said, “The battle to get rid of this ridiculous federal policy begins here tonight.”

He read off some names of GLBT Iowa veterans who have spoken out against DADT, called them up to center stage and thanked them for their military commitment and service.

GLBT Iowa Veterans receive acknowledgment and standing ovation from crowd for their military service

From there, the event moved to the big screen, where debate highlights of the presidential candidates' responses to whether or not they would repeal the DADT policy were broadcast. Before turning the evening over to the panel of veterans, Solmonese said the goal of the HRC and the “Legacy of Service” campaign was finding a smart way to move the debate forward. Holding events in places where the presidential candidates were going to appear was the first step, while education will be the second. “We can’t rely on Mitt Romney’s take on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ We need to get the real facts out there.”

Next, the HRC broadcast a video, illustrating the history of GLBT's serving in the armed forces:

HRC’s Legacy of Service Campaign

Part II of the series will profile the five veterans (below) who spoke at the event and their remarks as part of the panel.

Pictured from left to right: Eric Alva, Antonio Agnone, Alexander Nicholson, James Taylor, Jarrod Chlapowski

Read Part 2: "'Legacy of Service' Vets Speak Out Against 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'"

Read Part 3: "America is Less Safe Because of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'"

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