I arrived last Thursday in Washington, DC to attend my annual pilgrimage to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Lobby Days. I’ve participated in every single SLDN Lobby Days since the beginning. But somehow, this year was different. I arrived energized and optimistic because both houses of Congress have bills that would effectively repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
When I landed at Dulles International, I caught up on all the news of Lt. Dan Choi and his protest actions at the foot of the White House. To my knowledge, I haven’t seen such a form of protest by a veteran or active duty servicemember since the Vietnam War. Needless to say, his actions caught the attention of the global LGBT community. I noticed Facebook status updates of pride and happiness for Lt. Choi’s actions. He was hailed as a hero by many who I personally know that did not serve in the military. Those who did serve or were active duty remained silent or were concerned by his actions, specifically what the outcome would be and what members of Congress would think. Furthermore, there was concern that he subjected himself to disciplinary action according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Regardless, Lt. Choi gained international attention for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and, really, only time will tell.
Friday was the annual SLDN Lobby Days event. Being from California, I am fortunate to be represented in congress by Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein and Rep. Susan Davis. All of them have co-sponsored the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (MREA) in their respective chambers. It was exciting to hear that the MREA has 191 co-sponsors on the House version and 26 co-sponsors on the Senate version. Since my representatives are already co-sponsors, I was a Lobby Day Team Captain.
As Team Captain, I escorted my group through the congressional halls and visited representatives from North Carolina, Florida and Ohio. Our first scheduled visit was with Florida Republican Congresswoman Ginny Brown-Waite. We met with her chief of staff. We’ll refer to him as Pete. Pete was a very colorful young man. I couldn’t help noticing Pete’s body language. He sat across from me with his legs and arms crossed. I sensed some hostility. After some short introductions, Pete stated that the congresswoman is firm on her beliefs and will not change her mind on supporting the bill. Then, the fireworks began. With aggression in his voice, Pete shared that he was gay and a Republican. He believes that it is the Democrats’ fault that the law exists and he was tired of the Republicans taking heat for not supporting the repeal. It was unfortunate that the remainder of our conversation was focused on political rhetoric surrounding the issue. Never once did we hear from Pete talk about his concerns for his fellow Americans, or for any gay American servicemember. Perhaps the Washington political machine has consumed his life so much that he’s now unable to demonstrate any personal concern for those who defend his rights. Of course, our meeting ended with no support from the Congresswoman. But it was a fresh reminder that, even within the LGBT community, there is a vast political spectrum.
The remaining visits gave us the opportunity to talk with non-committed Democrats. I’m pleased to report that the efforts made by some of my fellow lobbyists gained a few more co-sponsors. On a different note, with all the visits that were made, one common message was said to us, “The Congressman/woman is busy with the health care issue.” It is my belief (and hope) that now that the hurdle of health care reform has been jumped, Congress and the President can now focus on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Saturday, Servicemembers United hosted a DADT Strategy Forum. Several veterans and supporters were present, including nationally recognized Pam Spaulding of the popular Pam’s House Blend blog. The group discussed the two bills in Congress, the strategies of the national organizations that support the repeal and creating a common message for those who support the repeal. At the forum, it was mentioned that preparations are underway for a strong push for DADT lobbying, a rally and march are set for May 11, 2010 in Washington, DC. Organizations like HRC and SLDN are among the many sponsors of the rally and are encouraging their supporters and the LGBT community to participate.
The way I see it, we’ve passed the halfway mark for support of the repeal, but there is a lot of work to be done by the Senate. The main focus is the Senate Armed Services Committee. There are seven ranking members who are teetering on support of the bill. These Senators are from the mid-west and south. I was surprised to see that Senator Jim Webb has not fully committed to the Senate bill. He has voiced support for the repeal, so I hope that with influence from his constituents and colleagues he will make the right decision. Everyone must understand, this battle will take a turn for the worse if the Senate bill doesn’t make it through this committee. I would encourage everyone to contact all members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and ask them to support the bill. Also, take some time to thank those who already have.
The highlight of my trip was at the annual SLDN dinner at the beautiful National Building Museum. Close to 1,000 people were in attendance. Among the attendees was political commentator and DADT repeal supporter, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. I was fortunate to meet her and share my experience of Senator Sam Nunn‘s visit on board my ship the USS John F. Kennedy. I appreciated that she took the time to listen and take a couple of photos with me. I was there when she met up with MREA House bill sponsor, Congressman Patrick Murphy, and felt guilty (and excited) to be eavesdropping on their admiration for each other and Rachel inviting the Congressman to come on her show.
Speaking of Congressman Murphy – wow, so handsome! I was fortunate to meet up with him after his excellent and invigorating speech. I thanked him for his support and offered my support in any way that I could. While meeting with him, I introduced him to an active duty Navy friend of mine. I was enamored with the fact that the Congressman stared into my friend’s eyes and listed to every word he said. Congressman Murphy thanked him for his service and gave him a business card and invited him to communicate with him any time. I also noticed that Congressman Murphy had a certain aura, much like that of a young Jack Kennedy. Who knows, I may have met the future President of the United States.
As always, I leave DC invigorated and excited. I realize that in order to succeed with the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the entire LGBT community has to unify with one voice. We have to set aside our differences and focus on the priority. As for me, a veteran, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will always be mine. And the only reason I say this is because I served our country, in silence. I am proud of my service. I know what it is like to have my freedoms compromised. My focus is to serve those who continue to serve in silence, defending those freedoms we often take for granted. We must always remember that they cannot fight for their freedoms. It is our responsibility to do that for them. But one thing is clear, we can’t stop the fight until the President signs the repeal.
So, our efforts are not done. Please write to President Obama and ask him to take the leadership in getting congress to pass this bill. Those of you who did not serve in the military, demonstrate your patriotism and help in this fight. To my fellow veteran and active duty brothers and sisters, keep fighting. We’re here to see this through. We are so close. Don’t give up hope. And, above all, we’re proud of your service.
Article written by Ben gomez, AVER San Diego Chapter President
Reprinted with permission. Oirginally posted on GLTNewsNow.com on 22 March 2010.