Tuesday, November 16, 2010

DADT: Where are We, and How Did We Get Here?

Veterans' Day, Thursday, Nov. 11: The New York City LGBT Community Center presented a forum on the the current status of the struggle to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the 1993 law which bars anyone who is openly LGBT from serving in the US Armed Forces.


Seen left to right, the panel was moderated by Richard SocaridesWhite House adviser under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1999 in a variety of senior positions, including adviser for gay and lesbian issues. He is a frequent commentator on LGBT issues on a wide variety of television news programs.

Jonathan Capehart is an editorial writer for The Washington Post and frequent contributor to MSNBC. Prior to joining the Post, he worked for the NY Daily News and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration. He and the NY Daily News editorial board won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing for their editorial series on the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

Winnie Stachelberg is the Senior VP for External Affairs at the Center for American Progress. Prior to joining the CAP, she spent 11 years with the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT civil rights organization. Before joining HRC, she worked at the Office of Management and Budget in both the George H. W. Bush and Clinton administrations.

Dr. Nathaniel Frank is Senior Research Fellow at the Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an adjunct professor of history at New York University. He is perhaps the most widely published journalist on the military’s current policy on gay troops and is the author of the groundbreaking Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America.

To briefly summarize a ninety-minute discussion, there were really only two things that all of the participants in the discussion seemed to agree on: DADT should be consigned to history's trashcan, and Barney Frank is right when he says that "There is zero chance of anything good happening with Republicans in control of the House." Opinions differed, however, as to the odds of winning repeal during the lame duck session.


Statchelberg was the most optimistic panelist, saying, "We're closer than ever to repealing DADT." She brandished a copy of that morning's Washington Post article, with the leaked preliminary results of the Pentagon's survey of servicemembers and their families, saying that the study's results would be "the rocket fuel" that would propel the success of the repeal efforts. She said the crucial factor in passing the repeal will be "how the majority leader [Harry Reid] handles it." No one disputed that, by limiting the number of amendments and attaching the Dream Act to the appropriations bill, Reid had made it much more difficult to obtain the votes needed for passage.

She also claimed that if LGBT organizations [such as HRC?] had been supportive of such a study at the start of Obama's administration, "We'd be further ahead."  (Despite the fact that, in January 2009, no one from the Pentagon, the White House or from either side of the aisle in Congress was calling for such a study.) Frank challenged this assertion, citing the 22 other such studies conducted over the last two decades. He said that the timing of the study, scheduled to be released on Dec. 1, only weeks before an anticipated GOP takeover of the House, illustrated the President's "long-term plan to delay." Capehart was noncommittal.


During a time of war, the President has the statutory authority to stop discharges in order to maintain sufficient numbers of troops. It has long been argued that, were such an order issued, the lack of any deleterious effects would prove the fallacy behind the argument that DADT is necessary to maintain unit cohesion. Frank, who had aggressively pushed for such an order, said that it was unlikely that the President would have done so but it seemed to be the best tactic to motivate the WH to move with more determination on the legislative repeal front. Stachelberg reiterated the WH's position, that their lawyers felt that Obama did not have the authority to circumvent the law. Capehart, other than defending his editorial in opposition to such an action, was noncommittal.


This was the one subject that I wish the panelists had spent more time discussing. Stachelberg called Judge Phillips' decision "unbelievably helpful."  "The Pentagon hates a lack of clarity," she explained, suggesting that enforcing the policy one day, then not
enforcing it, then enforcing it again, created a mindset in which the Pentagon would be more likely to embrace a final repeal of DADT.

On the subject of the Dept. of Justice filing an appeal of Judge Phillips' decision, Capehart said that it was a "tradition" for the DoJ to do so, and that it is an important tradition to uphold if we expect future Presidents to uphold the laws that our community desires. When it was pointed out that the DoJ has frequently failed to defend specific laws that the President does not wish to see continue, Capehart was noncommittal.

Capehart was noncom... are you noticing a pattern here? For a man who is paid to write op-ed pieces, Jonathan Capehart expressed surprisingly few strong opinions. I kept waiting in vain for anything approaching the passion in the opening paragraph of his WaPo piece Wrong on Gays in the Military.


It was, I have to say, a pleasure to see an audience that was so knowledgeable about the subject. Time was running short and only three audience members were able to question the panel. Tanya L. DomiJustin Elzie and Scott Wooledge all brought forward well reasoned challenges to some of the assertions made by the panel's members. Wooledge, for example, was the only person during the course of the evening who pointed out the fact that the repeal of DADT as it is presently written will only turn back the clock to where we were in 1993. If it passes, it will mean only that the Pentagon is no longer required to discriminate against LGBT servicemembers; it does not mean that the Pentagon will be prohibited from discriminating against LGBT servicemembers. But the reactions of even the audience members who did not get a chance to ask questions made it very clear that they were well aware of the current state of the movement to repeal this discriminatory and now unconstitutional law.


After nearly two years in power, the simple fact is the Obama administration has failed to make good on the President's promise to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." We've waited. We've called our legislators. We've marched, and demonstrated... Heck, we've even repeatedly handcuffed ourselves to the White House gates! But other than a few reassuring speeches, this administration has failed to take any kind of consistent, concrete action to bring about the repeal. It isn't the kids who are watching MTV we need our President to be speaking to, it's the members of Congress. The only way DADT is going to be repealed in the lame duck session is if the WH actively lobbies for it. Now, with the clock rapidly running out before the Republicans take control of the House of Representatives, it is possible, just slightly possible, that President Obama finally has a motive to move forward.

The game changer for me is the Log Cabin Republicans' challenge to the constitutionality of DADT. If it ends up being the Judiciary, not the Executive and Legislative branches, that ends this discriminatory law, any hopes President Obama may have that the LGBTQ populace will support his reelection bid out of gratitude to our "fierce advocate" will be long gone. Whether you believe that Obama's support of us has been sincere or just a political calculation, the one thing I think we can all agree on is that like every other politician out there, he wants to be reelected. If he can publicly succeed in shepherding repeal through the lame duck Congress before this session comes to an end, he will have come a long way toward repairing his painfully strained relationship with our community.


The following videos document virtually the entire evening. The only edits I have made were brief and forced on me by the technical limitations of the equipment with which I work. I've spent several days trying to clean up the sound quality, which is still poor, but finally understandable.








1 comment:

  1. I neglected to include the name of the woman who opens and closes the program, West Point grad and former Army Captain Sue Fulton. My sincerest apologies, Sue.