Monday, June 11, 2007

Human Rights Campaign to Launch National Tour in Iowa to Repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay civil rights organization, will start its “A Legacy of Service” tour against the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in Des Moines. The event will begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Iowa Historical Society in downtown Des Moines.

The national tour features the voices of a diverse group of veterans who have served under the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, including former Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, the first U.S. service member wounded in Iraq. Alva lost his leg on March 21, 2003, when he stepped on a landmine while traveling in Iraq in a convoy. Alva was awarded a Purple Heart and received a medical discharge form the military.

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. Standing in stark contrast, not a single Republican candidate spoke out in support of repealing the policy.

Former Marines Corps officer Antonio Agnone also will join the kick-off event in Des Moines. Agnone responded to the Republican candidates' lack of support: “…Because last night those candidates did more than just not raise their hand. They dishonored my service and the sacrifice of my brothers and sisters. And we'll never forget.”

Antonio Agnone's Response

“This national tour will show the faces of those who have served and sacrificed under this discriminatory policy,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “The American people have already overwhelmingly decided that our military should be about service and not about holding on to policies that dishonor our troops.

“During the beginning of the 2008 presidential election, this tour will ensure that the debate around repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is focused on the real issue at hand,” Solmonese added. “Those candidates running to be the next commander in chief will have to decide if they believe the sexual orientation of an Arabic linguist is more important than their ability to potentially decode the next piece of intelligence that could finally capture Osama Bin Laden.”

Fact Sheets Compiled by the Human Rights Campaign:

‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Poses Exorbitant Costs to the Military and Nation.

1. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Poses Exorbitant Costs to the Military and Nation.
Nearly 800 specialists with critical skills have been fired from the U.S. military under DADT, including 323 linguists, 55 of whom specialized in Arabic (Government Accountability Office report).

2. At least 65,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans are already protecting our homeland (Urban Institute report). More than 10,000 have been discharge under DADT since the policy was implemented in 1993.

3. American taxpayers have paid between $250 million and $1.2 billion to investigate, eliminate and replace qualified, patriotic service members who want to serve their country but can’t because expressing their sexual orientation violates DADT (Government Accountability Office report). That money could be better spent on at least a dozen Blackhawk helicopters, armored plates for tanks and Humvees or Kevlar body armor for troops.

Americans Support Allowing Gays and Lesbians to Serve Openly.

1. Sixty-seven percent of civilians support allowing gays to serve openly (Annenberg 2004 survey). In 2003, Fox News reported 64 percent support, and the Gallup organization 79 percent, on a similar question.

2. Nearly three in four troops (73 percent) say they are personally comfortable in the presence of gays and lesbians (Zogby International & the Michael D. Palm Center 2006 study).

3. One in four U.S. troops who served in Afghanistan or Iraq knows a member of their unit who is gay. More than 55 percent of the troops who know a gay colleague said the presence of gays or lesbians in their unit is well-known by others (Zogby International). The DADT policy serves no purpose, as troops already know and are comfortable serving alongside gays and lesbians.

4. All published Pentagon studies, including the 1993 Rand Report, conclude that there should be no special restrictions on service by gay personnel.

5. Twenty-four other nations, including Great Britain, Australia, Canada and Israel, already allow open service by gays and lesbians, and none of the 24 report morale or recruitment problems. Nine nations allowing open service have fought alongside American troops in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In addition, 12 nations allowing open service fought alongside U.S. troops in Operation Enduring Freedom.

6. Twenty-three of the 26 NATO nations allow gays and lesbians to serve openly and proudly. The United States, Turkey and Portugal are the only NATO nations that forbid gays and lesbians to serve openly in the armed services.

7. Federal CIA, FBI, Defense Intelligence Agency and Secret Service agents all serve proudly as openly gay and lesbian personnel fighting the war on terrorism.
Related Commentary: Read Stephen Benjamin’s op-ed piece, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Translate,” in today’s “New York Times.” Benjamin, a former petty officer second class in the Navy, was an Arabic translator, who was discharged under the military’s DODT policy.

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