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SLDN December Newsletter

Our Historic Opportunity
Let’s be frank. We expected more movement this year from Washington on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Still, 2009 was the best building year for the repeal effort – ever, notwithstanding that we had to push a bit to get the White House’s attention on repeal, and we are still pushing in the Senate. Our Roll Call ad in April was the catalyst for the media to push out the DADT debate.

We were encouraged to hear the President reiterate his support to a nationally televised audience in October, saying “I will end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’” We saw a record 186 members of the House co-sponsor the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (MREA), led by the exceptional quarterbacking of Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.).

The foot-dragging and mixed signals coming out of the Pentagon early in the year has slowed. A seriousness of purpose is taking hold, and we expect positive actions to come now that the Pentagon is working more closely with the White House to get rid of the ban.

At SLDN we are already laying the groundwork for launching a national initiative next month to urge the White House and Congress to include DADT repeal language in the President’s defense bill next year. DADT was enacted in President Clinton’s 1994 defense budget and should be ended in the DOD bill next year.

And we will continue to get cosponsors for the MREA in the House and keep pushing for an expected Senate companion bill introduction and hearing.

SLDN’s 18th Annual National Dinner in March will be our best yet. We are honored to welcome Rep. Murphy, the first Iraq War veteran to be elected to Congress, as our keynote speaker.

Your continued support and active engagement has brought us to this exciting point. While progress has been frustratingly slow, we are optimistic that all of us – especially our LGBT service members currently serving under DADT, and the gay and lesbian patriots who will be part of the upcoming Afghanistan surge – may finally have something very special to celebrate next year.

Thank you for standing with us during this important time, and Happy Holidays!

-Aubrey Sarvis, SLDN Executive Director

Register Early for National Dinner
Save 10% on tickets and tables by registering for SLDN’s 18th Annual National Dinner (March 20, 2010, at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.) by December 21. With Rep. Murphy as the keynote speaker, and surprise special guests, this event is sure to be a sellout. Buy your tickets now.

Elected in 2006, Rep. Murphy is an ardent DADT repeal advocate. In fact, Murphy has spoken out against the law since his days as an ROTC cadet and as an associate professor of Constitutional Law at West Point. As a patriotic American who volunteered for duty in Iraq after the September 11th attacks, a former paratrooper and Captain in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, a talented speaker and debater, and a dedicated husband and father, we could not ask for a better champion.

-David Hall, Acting Development Director

Legal Department Reaches New Milestone
This year we worked tirelessly to respond to the now close to 10,000 requests for assistance and to advise service members impacted by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and related forms of discrimination.

Several trends have emerged that demonstrate shifts in public attitudes toward LGBT people in general and that highlight the way this outdated law continues to harm LGBT service members.

Our legal work, for example, corroborates the polling of younger military attitudes toward gay service members. When speaking to clients we have found that, as a general rule, younger service members are much more accepting of gays and lesbians serving than their older generational counterparts.

Despite improvements in attitudes toward LGBT equality, however, the outdated law continues to be used as a tool of vengeance against service members. SLDN’s cases this year have included an increased number of incidences of blackmail and extortion, as well as more service members who were outed or threatened with outing by exes, friends, or coworkers.

Women also continue to be disproportionately impacted by DADT, according to the most recent discharge numbers released by the Pentagon. Of the 619 service members discharged in 2008 under DADT, one-third was women — even though women comprise only 15 percent of all active-duty and reserve members.

Issues of gender identity remain an important component of the Legal Department’s work. In 2009, dozens of transgender service members and civilians continued to contact SLDN. The Legal Staff provided these clients with needed and invaluable advice on accession, transitioning, and related issues.

The legal team continues to go on the road, educating future lawyers, JAG officers, and others about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and how it impacts the service members we assist. This past fall took us to the law schools at Northwestern, Vanderbilt, and Washington & Lee.

-Aaron Tax, Legal Director

Legislative Update
With 186 members of Congress having signed onto HR 1283 (MREA) – the largest amount of support the bill has ever enjoyed, the year comes to a close on a positive legislative note. Although full repeal has not yet been achieved, we are much closer to a bill being passed by Congress and signed by the President, ending the ban on open service.

Early next year, SLDN expects that a Senate companion bill to MREA will be introduced and that congressional hearings on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will be scheduled in both the Senate and House Armed Services Committee. As the new year unfolds, we will launch an initiative to encourage the White House and the Department of Defense (DOD) to include the repeal of DADT in the annual defense spending bill, presented to Congress next spring. Recently Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has put on the table a DADT repeal going in the defense authorization next year.

We must harness the momentum that has been built over the past year and use it to finally pass full repeal before the 2010 midterm elections next November. Stay with us in this battle, and keep doing your part.

-Jeremy Wilson-Simerman, Legislative Manager

Pushing the Debate Forward
SLDN Communications continues to successfully pitch DADT to major newspapers, cable outlets, military publications and bloggers.

In October, President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to repeal DADT in a nationally televised speech, saying “I will end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’” SLDN framed the post-speech coverage by emphasizing the President’s lack of a timeline. The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times both included our message prominently in their coverage.

We were particularly encouraged to see the repeal message penetrate the editorial boards of more conservative newspapers, including the Fort Worth, Texas, Star Telegram and the West Virginia Charleston Gazette, which cited Col. Om Prakash’s Joint Force Quarterly essay in its support for open service.

CNN’s Nov. 10th “Veterans in Focus” profiled former U.S. Army Sergeant Darren Manzella, the openly gay medic serving in Iraq. This piece ran multiple times on Veterans Day. BBC did a piece on Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, and Agence France-Presse (AFP) featured former Air Force Staff Sergeant David Hall, who was discharged under DADT in 2002. You can find these on You-Tube.

Next month we're set to launch a major traditional and social media initiative to insert repeal language in the defense spending budget for FY 2011. The defense spending budget is the legislative vehicle through which “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was signed into law 16 years ago, and it is in this same Department of Defense budget where DADT must be scrapped.

SLDN is looking for veterans to tell their stories of how DADT has impacted them, and we are requesting submissions from veterans and their friends and families for our blog, Frontlines. Send blog post submissions to pdemiglio@sldn.org.

-Kevin Nix, Communications Director

Challenges of a Deployed Partner
It’s 0530 on a Tuesday. My three fuzzy children are up, vocal and wondering when someone’s going to feed them breakfast. I roll over, anticipating my significant other to soon spring from our bed to appease these feisty boys who are now crawling all over me. Then I remember the stark reality—she isn’t there. She has been deployed.

As much as I hate to admit it, my partner ran our household. She didn’t do all the cooking or all the cleaning or all the bill paying. But she was the glue that made the place “home.” Now, it’s just me and the children we were raising together. A once vibrant house full of chatter is now still. As much as I miss curling up with her in bed next to me, what I miss most is coming home to my best friend and sharing the intricacies of our days.

We’re lucky. We have the Internet, where we can try to “Skype” our way through the business matters of our partnership. However, when one of us is sick or some other “life crisis” arises, not even the clarity of our new webcam-equipped laptops can replace the peace that comes from a simple hug.

Our challenges are not unique to us. However, we are at a disadvantage due to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”For many couples grappling with such a separation, the deployed partner’s unit or command provides a sense of community for the one left behind. Similarly, the brothers and sisters in arms provide a sense of family and understanding in a world so far away. For gay couples, that doesn’t exist. There is no community, and to seek one would endanger careers and livelihoods. We both answered our nation’s call. Knowing that our country would take everything from us if they knew who we loved is sometimes too much to bear. My partner places integrity above all else. When will our government realize the emotional turmoil DADT places on people who only want to serve with honor?

Until this law is repealed, we will continue to serve, even if it’s in silence. And I’ll keep popping out of bed for pre-sunrise feedings—until she comes home.

This article was written by an SLDN supporter who must remain anonymous to protect the identity of her partner.

Contact Your Lawmakers
Any effective grassroots mobilization effort requires sustained energy and action. Over the past few months, we’ve seen both continue to build in the movement to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” With each day that DADT remains on the books, the chorus of voices calling for repeal grows louder.

In mid-October, this chorus spoke loud and clear at the National Equality March. Hundreds of SLDN supporters and tens of thousands of participants from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C., to demand full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans. Following President Obama’s renewed promise to end DADT earlier that weekend, repeal was at the forefront as people took to the streets. Overall, the message that day was clear: We will not stand for DADT any longer.

One day of energy and action, however, does not make a winning campaign. Keenly aware of this fact, we’ve worked hard to harness the energy among repeal supporters and translate it into focused action to meet our ultimate objective of getting rid of DADT in 2010. In particular, in-district constituent meetings with members of Congress have proven to be one of the most effective ways to help win additional Congressional support. From Maryland to Oregon, Georgia to Illinois, SLDN supporters – most of whom never having lobbied before – are visiting the offices of key members of Congress. Ordinary folks are educating their lawmakers and taking us ever closer to repeal.

Let’s keep it going in the coming weeks and months. Sign up to visit or call your member of Congress, join SLDN on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter (@FreedomToServe).

Repeal is on the horizon, but we must all continue to keep up the pressure on our lawmakers.

-Ben Mishkin, Grassroots Organizer/Policy Advocate

Staff Update
John Goodman joined SLDN’s Legal Department earlier in the year as Of Counsel. We continue to benefit from John’s vast experience and wise counsel.

David McKean joined SLDN in December as Staff Attorney. Prior to joining SLDN, David served as a law clerk for the Honorable Steven G. Salant of the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland. David earned his B.S. in English Literature from the University of California, Berkeley and his J.D. from the American University, Washington College of Law.

Emily Sussman joined SLDN in September as Legislative Associate. Prior to joining SLDN Emily founded Think Blue, a political organization for young professional Democrats. Emily is a member of the New York Bar, and earned her J.D. from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, graduating Cum Laude.

Aaron Tax has been promoted from Co-Director for Law to Legal Director.

David Hall has been promoted from Major Gifts Officer to Acting Development Director.

Emily Hecht, Co-Director for Law, accepted a position as Senior Legislative Counsel with the Family Equality Council. Emily was with SLDN for more than three years, and will be greatly missed. We wish her the very best at the Family Equality Council.