( Pictured: Genevieve Chase, straight ally who served in Afghanistan now director of American Women Veterans; Eric Alva, the first soldier wounded Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and who lost his leg in service to his country; and Rep. Patrick Murphy, new lead sponsor of the Military Enhancement Readiness Act )
Repeal of the antigay military policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ( DADT ) has a new champion in the halls of Congress. Rep. Patrick Murphy ( D-Pennsylvania ) agreed last week to take over as lead sponsor of the legislation.
He faced reporters at the National Press Club on July 8 at the launch of a national tour by LGBT vets and their straight allies to build support for repeal. The effort is known as "Voices of Honor: A Generation Under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"
The baby-faced Murphy, seemingly not long removed from his altar boy past, served in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division and taught constitutional law at West Point. He aggressively took on supporters of DADT at a congressional hearing last year and showed a firm determination to repeal the policy as soon as possible.
"Our troops are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and are stretched dangerously thin," Murphy said. The 13,000 discharges under DADT "are the equivalent of three and a half combat brigades … The policy is not working for our armed services and it hurts our national security."
"To remove honorable, talented, and committed Americans from serving in our military is contrary to the values that our military holds dear."
He noted that American attitudes have changed towards gays and lesbians. Polls show that more than two-thirds support allowing gays to serve openly in the armed forces. The percentage is even higher "among the age bracket that we are recruiting."
Murphy said Congress passed DADT and it is their responsibility to repeal it. He was encouraged by the fact that House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton ( D-Missouri ) recently committed to holding a full committee hearing on repeal later this year. The earlier hearing had been in a subcommittee.
He said when many of his colleagues come to realize that it costs about $60,000 to recruit and put a single soldier through basic training, then they start to see the policy in a different light. Many have told him that while they will not join as one of the current 151 cosponsors, they will vote for repeal.
Murphy does not believe there will be problems implementing a repeal once it is passed. He said, "Our military will do what is asked of them … They will salute the flag and perform the mission given to them … It is not rocket science, it is treating people with honor and dignity, and they are already doing that."
He said President Obama has been very clear, "Give me a bill and I'll sign it."
Murphy wants to proceed as quickly as possible but he refused to state a timetable, saying, "I'm not the Speaker of the House, I can't put it on the docket."
He also sidestepped a question on the recent decision by the Rules Committee not to allow repeal as an amendment on a military authorization bill. He is not a member of that committee and deferred to chairman Louise Slaughter ( D-New York ) .
"I cannot tell you how long this is going to take, all I can tell you is that paratroopers don't quite, and paratroopers get the job done," Murphy said. He has foregone wearing the lapel pin that identifies him as a congressman in order to wear a pin of the 82nd Airborne, in honor of the 19 comrades who died in Iraq.
VOICES OF HONOR
Also speaking at the news conference were some of the vets who will be hitting the ground over the next two months to tell their stories of living under DADT.
Alex Nicholson, executive director of the LGBT vets group Servicemembers United, said he was forced out of the Army two months after 9/11, despite the fact that he was a human intelligence officer who spoke five languages, including Arabic.
Marine Sgt. Eric Alva, the first soldier wounded Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, lost his leg in service to his country. He subsequently came out publicly as gay. He said, "When I went to fight the war on terrorism, it was for the rights and freedoms of every single person in this country, not just selected individuals."
Genevieve Chase is a straight ally who served in Afghanistan and is executive director of American Women Veterans. "I trained and served with countless gays and lesbians;" those who chose to be open about their sexual orientation had absolutely no impact on unit cohesion.
She said, "Dishonesty within our ranks is what destroys the cohesion of our armed forces and our team." What mattered is how you did your job.
* * * END ARTICLE * * *
FROM AN HRC NEWS RELEASE
July 8, 2009
U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, alongside gay, lesbian, and straight servicemembers, kicks off "Voices of Honor: A Generation Under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'"
WASHINGTON � The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ( LGBT ) civil rights organization, in partnership with Servicemembers United, the nation's largest organization of gay and lesbian troops and veterans and their straight allies, and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy ( D-PA ) , announced today the launch of "Voices of Honor: A Generation Under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'" The national tour highlights the discriminatory law that hurts military readiness and national security while putting American soldiers fighting overseas at risk. To learn more online, visit: www.hrc.org/VoicesOfHonor.
"This tour focuses on the voices and stories of the qualified, patriotic gay and lesbian service members who are forced out of the U.S. Armed Services simply because of who they are," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "Poll after poll continues to show the vast majority of Americans, including the majority of active members of the Armed Services, support the right of gay and lesbian service members to serve openly and honestly. We must repeal this discriminatory policy and ensure that our military can recruit and retain the best and the brightest troops regardless of their sexual orientation."
"'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is an antiquated holdover from a previous era," said Alex Nicholson, Executive Director of Servicemembers United. "The men and women in the modern military, both gay, lesbian, and straight, are professionals. Servicemembers United and HRC are going on the road with the 'Voices of Honor' tour to show the American public who gay service members really are, and that our fellow troops simply do not care about sexual orientation anymore."
"'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' clearly isn't working for our military, and it hurts national security and military readiness at a time when America is fighting in two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," said U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy ( D-PA ) . "My time in Iraq taught me that our military needs the best and the brightest who are willing to serve- and that means all Americans, regardless of their orientation. Discharging brave and talented service members from our armed forces is contrary to the values that our military fights for and that our nation holds dear."
"Voices of Honor" features a diverse group of gay, lesbian, and straight veterans who have served under the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. The tour includes former Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, the first U.S. soldier wounded in the Iraq war; Jarrod Chlapowski, a former U.S. Army Korean linguist who opted to not re-enlist because of DADT and is currently a public policy advocate at the Human Rights Campaign; Alex Nicholson, a U.S. Army veteran fluent in Arabic discharged under DADT and current executive director of Servicemembers United; Army Staff Sgt. Genevieve Chase, a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom and Executive Director of American Women Veterans; and others standing united and speaking out for the repeal of this discriminatory policy that continues to harm our nation's security. For veteran profiles, visit: http://www.hrc.org/sites/voicesofhonor/about_vets.asp
The tour builds on the work of the Human Rights Campaign and Servicemembers United and the June 2007 "Legacy of Service" tour that played a key role in driving the conversation in the Democratic and Republican Presidential debates. During the presidential primary campaign debates leading up to the 2008 election, every Democratic and Republican candidate was asked about his or her position on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The issue was also addressed in the LOGO, Human Rights Campaign Presidential Forum in 2007. The importance of repealing DADT was also highlighted in the 2006 "Call to Duty" tour sponsored by HRC and Servicemembers United.
"Voices of Honor: A Generation Under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'" National Tour:
Virginia Beach, VA;
Kansas City, MO;
*Additional cities and dates expected to be announced soon.