U.S. Senate Committee Hears Testimony from Military Veterans on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)– The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, hailed this week’s Senate Armed Service Committee hearing on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) law for pointing out the failure of the current ban on lesbians and gays serving openly in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Testifying at the hearing for DADT repeal were two Iraq/Afghanistan veterans discharged under the discriminatory law – former Air Force Major Mike Almy and former Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade Jenny Kopfstein. Testifying against DADT repeal was retired U.S. Marine Corps General John Sheehan. General Sheehan retired from the military 13 years ago after 35 years of service, serving under DADT for approximately 3 years.

“The two brave veterans who told their stories of being discharged under this discriminatory law make it perfectly clear that the time to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is now” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “Every day that our troops serve under this law is a day too many.”

Earlier this month, Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) introduced the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (MREA) in the U.S. Senate to repeal DADT. U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA), an Iraq War veteran and a former paratrooper in the U.S. Army’s elite 82nd Airborne Division, is the lead sponsor of the MREA in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“General Sheehan branded ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ as an ‘awkward and difficult’ law. While I agreed with nothing in the rest of his testimony, especially the baseless assertions that open lesbians and gays would be responsible for an increase in misconduct in the military, I agree that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is an ‘awkward and difficult’ law, and I know that we must not wait to repeal it,” said Solmonese.

Military leaders, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen, recognize that DADT is a failed law and support its repeal. Former Vice President Dick Cheney also recently came out for repeal by stating, “When the chiefs come forward and say, ‘We think we can do it,’ then it strikes me as it’s time to reconsider the policy, and I think Adm. Mullen said that.” Moreover, former supports of the law, such as General Colin Powell, former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General John M. Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have all indicated their support for repealing DADT as well.

Additionally, the vast majority of Americans — including majorities of Republicans, Independents and Democrats — support repealing DADT. Support by the public for open service by lesbian and gay troops has grown by 31 percentage points since DADT was introduced over a decade ago. A Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted in July 2008 found that 75% of Americans believe openly lesbian and gay citizens should be able to serve in the U.S. military, compared to 62% in 2001 and 44% in 1993. Americans recognize that on the battlefield, it does not matter whether a soldier is lesbian, gay or straight; what matters is that a soldier gets the job done. This discriminatory law hurts military readiness and national security while putting American soldiers fighting overseas at risk.

HRC has launched a national campaign to repeal DADT this year. The campaign will focus on key states where congressional support for repeal is critical, HRC has dispatched field staff to six states – Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Virginia and West Virginia, with other states to follow in the months ahead. HRC is also asking members and supporters to sign up and to join the growing network of supporters to repeal DADT. To learn more visit: www.hrc.org/RepealDADT.

Prior to this, HRC has spent years laying the groundwork for repeal of DADT through programs like the “Voices of Honor” and “Legacy of Service” tours, which organized in key states to highlight the costs of DADT and promote the voices of gay and straight veterans who support repeal. These efforts began in 2005 when

HRC and Servicemembers United launched the first of three national tours to share the stories of service members who have been harmed by DADT. From Philadelphia to Phoenix, from Kansas City to San Diego, the tours made stops nationwide, driving local and national media attention, including coverage by the military itself.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.