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Friday, November 12, 2010

Healing the Damages: Report, Video, Photos From DADT Panel Discussion

Click for photo album

This is a report by Mary Ellen Broderick.

A special Veteran's Day treat came through Albuquerque on 11.11.10. Four brave soldiers came to UNM Law School to talk about their service -- one woman, one Hispanic male, one Anglo male, one retired Anglo male. What was the common thread among them? They are all gay. Brave gay soldiers. Very brave gay soldiers on the front line with thousands of other members of the military fighting the battle to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in our armed forces. Fight for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT).

Congressman Martin Heinrich (D, NM-01) kicked off the discussion with a warm welcome to these vets and the other vets in the audience (see video above). Heinrich serves on the House Armed Services Committee and has been privy to watching battle over repeal of DADT up close. Rep. Heinrich was a co-sponsor of the bill to repeal DADT. It passed last May in the House as an amendment to the defense authorization bill, with Reps. Heinrich, Ben Ray Lujan and Harry Teague all voting yes.  He reassured the audience that the repeal is a matter of when, not if. The Senate has yet to act on the matter, mostly thanks to Sen. John McCain's threats to mount a filibuster to stop it.

The soldiers on the panel introduced themselves and told their personal stories of serving in the military while being gay or lesbian, and how they fared within the system.  Maj. Pat Baillie is a decorated Air Force officer who served on the Pentagon staff before retiring, all the while managing to stay officially closeted. LTC Steve Loomis is a decorated combat officer who was discharged from the Army for being gay just five days before his twenty year retirement. MAA3 Joseph Roche handled bomb sniffing dogs in Iraq with the US Navy and was harassed before being discharged under DADT. LTC Victor Fehrenbach is a decorated F-15 fighter pilot who is in the process of being discharged from the Air Force for being gay after coming out publicly on the Rachel Maddow Show

I took a video of each of the gay soldiers telling their stories. I recommend watching them (see below the break) so you, too, can see the strong fabric of their character. There was a real sense of gravity and humility, as well as humor, in each of these souls.

General Discussion/Q and A
Where are we headed? The repeal of DADT is wrapped up in the defense appropriations bill. Sen. Mc Cain has said he would filibuster it. However, this week, there was some good news. Secretary Gates stated publicly that he supported the repeal.

Two days ago, some of the findings of a survey about repealing DADT that was sent to all active and reserve members of the military, as well as preliminary findings of a Pentagon study on the issue, were leaked to the media. The survey responses were very favorable -- about 88% said the effect of repealing the policy would be positive, mixed, nonexistent or the issue didn't matter enough to return the questionnaire. The study group has concluded that the military can lift the ban on gays serving openly in uniform with only minimal and isolated incidents of risk to the current war efforts.

We have got to move all the LGBT issues forward at once. Many LGBT folks don't favor the military and so they don't see this fight as their fight.  The LGBT community has got to come together and see every battle as a effort in the direction of equality for all. 

How would repeal affect combat?  No affect at all. Soldiers are serving with militaries from other nations that allow out gays to serve. Our US soldiers are with these gay soldiers right now, no big deal. In each coming out story it was emphasized that the soldier received an outpouring of support from their fellow soldiers. The powerful relief in telling the truth after being closeted for many years was felt by each one.

A bit of gay military history was shared -- one of the key military officials who helped us be victorious in our Revolutionary War was a gay man. Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, the Prussian aristocrat and military officer who served as inspector general and Major general of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He served with General George Washington at Valley Forge and taught the Continental Army the essentials of military drill and discipline. He also wrote the Revolutionary War Drill Manual -- the book that became the standard US military drill manual until the War of 1814. In the final years of the war, he served as General Washington's chief of staff. 

Under DADA we lose some of our best soldiers. LTC Victor Fehrenbach said it cost $20 million to train him to operate the jets he flies. Are we, as a nation, willing to just throw this money away if highly trained and skilled members of the military are gay?  Isn't this absurd? Now calculate that amount times thousands of men and women.  As we all know, gays and lesbians are some of the most over-achieving people due to wanting to overcome not being accepted. By golly, 'I will show you' is what we do as gays!

The pain of coming out was so obvious in these individuals, including internal struggles that still exist, and future uncertainties, but never was there an ounce of regret expressed about what they are doing. LTC Fehrenbach joked that he wouldn't suggest that anyone come out as he did ... three days before coming out on the Rachel Maddow Show (April 09), he came out to his family.  Here we have a man, probably in his 40s, who had been living in the closet for all those years.  What we do as gay people!

I left the event feeling optimistic. And that listening to these positive soldiers, I do believe right will win out. I am incredibly thankful to these brave souls who happen to be vets. It should be an interesting end of year on this Don’t Ask Don’t Tell issue. Stay tuned.

LTC Victor Fehrenbach

MAA3 Joseph Roche

MAJ Pat Baillie

LTC Steve Loomis

Katherine Turnipseed of ACLU New Mexico explains what the soldier's actions mean to her and discusses the lawsuit filed this week by the ACLU on behalf of a former Staff Sergeant at Cannon AFB discharged under DADT who had his discharge pay cut in half

November 12, 2010 at 03:19 PM in GLBT Rights, Military Affairs, Obama Administration, Rep. Martin Heinrich (NM-01), Veterans | Permalink


I enjoyed watching the videos. These soldiers are true heros. Someday, history will see them that way!

Posted by: Edwin | Nov 13, 2010 2:46:13 PM