Veterans March on Congress to Call for End to Gay Ban

Thu. May 27, 2004 12:00 AM

Washington, DC - More than sixty veterans and activists from twenty-two states stormed Capitol Hill Tuesday, calling on their elected representatives to repeal the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual service members, signed into law by former President Bill Clinton.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network's (SLDN) second annual lobby day was the largest organized lobbying effort around the military's gay ban since its inception in 1993. Participants included MCPOCG Vincent W. Patton III, USCG, (Ret.), a former Master Chief Petty Office of the Coast Guard; LTC Steve Loomis, who is challenging the military's ban in court after being discharged days before his retirement; Patricia and Wally Kutteles, parents of slain Army PFC Barry Winchell; and three retired flag officers - BG Keith Kerr, BG Virgil Richard, and RADM Alan Steinman - who came out publicly in The New York Times in December. In all, twenty-two state delegations met with over ninety Congressional offices, Republican and Democratic, from both the House and Senate. Last year, fourteen state delegations met with fifty congressional offices.

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), a staunch supporter of LGBT rights, welcomed the participants at a Monday morning reception in Washington. "We have nothing but the highest praise for our men and women in the military, and that is as it should be," said Rep. Norton. "[LGBT veterans] have made a special sacrifice that other veterans are not asked to make. When you are willing to die for this country, the last thing I want to know is . . . your sexual orientation." Rep. Norton urged veterans to "let Congress see who the military is."

According to a December Gallup poll, 79% of Americans support gays serving openly. The Urban Institute has also reported that there are one million lesbian, gay, and bisexual veterans living in the United States.

"There is overwhelming support to repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' The gay ban hurts military readiness, depriving our country of the talents and skills of patriotic Americans," said C. Dixon Osburn, Executive Director of SLDN. "The end of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is closer at hand than at any other time in history."

Congressman Marty Meehan (D-MA), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, called the lobby day part of a growing movement to topple the ban. "The momentum to repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is growing and the days of anti-gay discrimination in our armed forces are limited," said Rep. Meehan. "It is vitally important that veterans and constituents continue to speak out, as they have this week, and urge their representatives to welcome the talents of every American patriot, regardless of sexual orientation."

Cheryl Jacques, Executive Director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), also praised SLDN and lobby day participants for speaking out. "Members of Congress need to hear from Americans who have fought for others' freedom while being denied their own," said Jacques. "We're proud to stand with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network in fighting the ban."