National Press Club

Group Kicks Off Campaign to Repeal Military Ban on Gay Servicemembers

July 9, 2009 | By Mark Schoeff Jr. | mschoeff@workforce.com

A law banning gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military is diminishing U.S. capacity to meet the demands of conducting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to advocates seeking to repeal the restriction.

“The policy is not working for the armed services, and it hurts our national security,” said Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., at a July 8 Newsmaker. “This is not something that we can punt down the road, when our troops are spread so thin in the Middle East.”

Murphy, an Iraq veteran, is the lead sponsor of a bill that would end the "don’t-ask-don’t-tell" policy toward gay and lesbian soldiers, sailors and pilots. Under the law, enacted in 1993, homosexuals can serve only as long as they don’t reveal their sexual
identity.

The ban has led to the discharge of 13,000 troops, including 800 “mission critical” personnel, such as medics and fighter pilots, and 60 Arabic linguists, according to Murphy.

The repeal legislation, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (H.R. 1283), has 151 co-sponsors. Murphy, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said that the panel chairman, Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., has agreed to have a full committee hearing on the bill during the current session of Congress. Last year, the measure received a hearing
in an Armed Services subcommittee, the first in 15 years.

President Obama has promised to sign the bill if it gains congressional approval. The journey toward House and Senate passage is likely to be arduous. But Murphy said he has heard from Democratic and Republican colleagues who say they will vote for the legislation even though they declined to sign on as co-sponsors.

In order to build support for the bill, Murphy announced the formation of Voices of Honor, a national campaign designed to highlight how the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy is undermining the military. Over the next few weeks, the tour will hold events in Orlando, Tampa, Kansas City, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Trenton and surrounding areas.

Murphy, who was a paratrooper in Baghdad in 2003-04, is girding for a tough fight. As a symbol of his service, he wears an 82nd Airborne Division pin instead of a House member pin on his lapel each day.

“Paratroopers don’t quit and paratroopers get the job done,” Murphy said.

On this mission, Murphy and other supporters of the repeal will have to overcome critics who say that allowing homosexuals to serve openly will create dangerous rifts in military units.

“Allowing discrimination and bigotry to continue and forcing dishonesty within our ranks is what disrupts the cohesion of our teams,” said Genevieve Chase, a straight reservist who served for eight months in Afghanistan in 2006.

Lifting the ban will enable gay service members to work without looking over their shoulders, said Joan Darrah, a retired Navy captain. On Sept. 11, 2001, a Pentagon room where she had attended a meeting minutes before was destroyed when one of the hijacked planes hit the building.

She later realized that had she been killed, her partner would not have known what happened to her. Darrah didn’t list her as an emergency contact out of fear of losing her job. It was an example of how Darrah had to hide her sexual identity.

“Each day, I went to work wondering if that would be my last day of service,” Darrah said.

Murphy, who is straight, says that in his experience, troops weren’t concerned about who is gay. “They cared whether they could get the job done," Murphy said. "We cared about serving with honor and coming home alive.”