Fifteen years after President Bill Clinton's attempt at a compromise on gays serving in the military—the law that now mandates that the military fire openly gay and lesbian people—hearings on the topic were held for the first time July 23 by the U.S. House Armed Services personnel subcommittee.
It is not news that 12,500 gay and lesbian people have been discharged from the military at staggering financial and personal costs, while recruiting is so difficult that standards have been lowered and service members are too often rotated back to combat areas repeatedly, long past the end dates of their original obligations.
Witnesses with distinguished military backgrounds ( Pictured: Retired Army Brig. Gen. Vance Coleman, retired Navy Capt. Joan Darrah, former Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva. Photos by Patsy Lynch. ) , brought to the hearings personal stories of service and sacrifice with which the members of the committee could identify. Darrah, who served for 30 years, spoke of 9/11 and her realization that, if she had been killed, her partner would have been the last to know. Alva, a gay man who was the first U.S. soldier wounded in the Iraq conflict, told the story of his service.
The committee also heard Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, who spoke for continuing Don't Ask, Don't Tell ( DADT ) . According to the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, Donnelly warned of lesbians taking pictures in the showers, and gays spreading 'HIV positivity' and 'exotic forms of sexual expression.'
According to Milbank, Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Penn., a veteran of the Iraq war, characterized the tone of Donnelly's remarks as an insult to himself and others present, stating that Donnelly was saying that soldiers 'aren't professional enough to serve openly with gay troops while successfully completing their military mission.'
The post ran a quote from Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn. Referring to Darrah, he said, 'Would you please tell me, Miss Donnelly, why I should give one twit about this woman's sexual orientation, when it didn't interfere one bit with her service?'
Recommended reading: Post article at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/23/AR2008072303642.html, coverage in the Chicago Tribune and in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Jean Albright is an employee of Windy City Media Group, a 20 year retired Air Force Master Sgt. and a member of the board of directors of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.