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'LET THEM SERVE' Braun at SLDN Benefit
by Bob Roehr

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Pictured Former U.S. Senator from Illinois Carol Moseley Braun at SLDN's Washington, D.C. benefit. Photo by Bob Roehr. David Hall, a plaintiff in SLDN's historic court challenge, accepts the Barry Winchell Courage Award. BG Evelyn "Pat" Foote, USA ( Ret. ) . Jenny Kopfstein, a plaintiff in SLDN's court case, and Deb Price of the Detroit News, recipient of this year's Randy Shilts Visibility Award. Last three photos by Judy G. Rolfe for SLDN

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network ( SLDN ) kicked off their lobby days in Washington, D.C., with an upbeat report of progress made over the last six months.

Former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Carol Moseley Braun offered a moving keynote address at SLDN's annual dinner May 7.

C. Dixon Osburn said one of the highlights is introduction of the Military Readiness Act of 2005 ( HR 1059 ) to repeal the antigay policy known as 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' ( DADT ) . Their goal had been to gain 40 cosponsors within the first year of introduction; that number already has reached 83.

He pointed to comments made by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., a conservative Cuban-American and cosponsor, as illustrative of his optimism. She told the Miami Herald, 'We investigate people, bring them up on charges, basically wreck their lives. We should be thanking them.'

Osburn said this is the right time to push for repeal of the ban, 'Because America needs us, America supports us, and we are already doing the job.' The latest polls show that 56% of the country supports repealing DADT, and a majority of junior officers within the military have come around as well.

Last December SLDN initiated the other major challenge to DADT when it filed a lawsuit in federal court in Boston. The case, known as Cook v. Rumsfeld, has gone through preliminary filings of arguments.

In a separate interview, SLDN spokesman Steve Ralls said they will have three weeks notice on the date for oral arguments. The judge is likely to set that date this month.

Retired Brigadier General Evelyn 'Pat' Foote is a member of SLDN's advisory board. She is sure that she served with many GLBT service members, 'But you don't ask them their sexual orientation because that is inconsequential. It only becomes consequential when men and women of any sexual persuasion bring their conduct to the workplace or to the barracks … . So I don't understand what the problem is.'

'Any extra discrimination that has to do with gender, or race, or sexual orientation is a fraud on this nation,' Foote said. 'I hope we can try and screw into the brains of Congress and the DoD [ Department of Defense ] , the reality that we as Americans take advantage of this tremendous diversity and meld it into a force that serves all of us.'

Syndicated columnist Deb Price regaled the audience with tales of visiting the small town of Perry, Ga., the home of then Sen. Sam Nunn, during the debate on DADT in 1993. Democrat Nunn led the fight for the gay ban.

She reminded them that Nunn was on to something when he linked gays serving in the military and gay marriage. 'Those are the two things [ the homophobes ] don't want us to have, because then they have to respect us ... . The fear is that we will have those two things, and people will come to understand and welcome us, which is what is happening.'

Price looked at the number of marriages conducted in Provincetown, Mass., in all of 2004, including the seven and a half months in which gays were allowed to marry. There were 863 marriages in the town; 24 were straight. She is optimistic that victory on both counts is near.

Former Sen. Carol Mosley Braun has broken many barriers of gender and race within her illustrious career. She placed the struggle of gays for equality squarely within those struggles, saying, 'The liberation of the human spirit is the real core of the American dream.'

She outlined how at the founding of this country, 'the vast majority [ of Americans ] could not participate' in Thomas Jefferson's stirring vision of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 'Over time, we have moved as a nation in the direction of America as good as its promise.'

'Everyone is better off when we tap the talent and contributions of all of the people and not just some of them ... . Discrimination, exclusion, racism, sexism, homophobia, all of these are evils that affect not only the person who suffers second-class citizenship, these are evils that drains capacity from our society as a whole.'

Braun said, 'Our military will be better able to defend our values abroad when we stand firm in defense of them here at home.'

A poll published in Sunday's Boston Globe reports that 79% of Americans believe gays should be allowed to serve openly in the U.S. military. 'Large majorities of Republicans, regular chuchgoers, and [ even ] people with negative attitudes toward gays think gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military,' the Globe reports.

The Globe poll follows other recent polls showing growing support for allowing gays to serve openly. Recent Gallup polls have reported between 65% and 79% support for lifting the military's gay ban. The Annenberg Survey reported in October that half of junior enlisted personnel and their families support allowing gays to serve. And in 2003, FOX News reported 64% support for allowing gays to serve, SLDN reported.

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