A group of actively serving gay, lesbian and bisexual military personnel is planning its first convention this fall in Las Vegas in what may be another sign that the "don't ask, don't tell" policy's days are numbered.
By scheduling its Armed Forces Leadership Summit for October 13-16 in the city with the slogan, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," OutServe, an underground network of more than 3,000 gay troops, appears to be thumbing its nose at the 17-year-old rule that bars gays from openly serving and has led to the discharge of more than 14,500 military personnel.
OutServe also released an unscientific survey of its members Wednesday that found 78 percent of respondents said they were "out" to at least some in their unit. More than one in four said they had "come out" since President Barack Obama signed the bill to repeal DADT.
The findings, which may help explain the reasoning behind the high-profile summit, confirms that troops who have told colleagues they are gay have suffered "no negative impact," said group spokesman Jonathan Hopkins, a former Army captain and veteran of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The group said it hoped the summit would "provide an international forum on enhancing military readiness through encouraging an environment of respect with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity." Although it is unclear how many active-duty personnel will risk attending -- DADT remains in effect as the repeal process is implemented -- organizers say it will be open to veterans and civilians as well.
"We believe diversity is a force multiplier, and this conference will bring together veterans, active-duty military and other experts to help us leverage LGBT inclusion for the benefit of military readiness," said OutServe co-director JD Smith, who goes by a pseudonym because he is an Air Force officer.
In theory, DADT could be history by the time the summit opens. Training of troops is expected to be completed by August 15, although the largest service, the Army, has reportedly briefed fewer than one in four soldiers.
"Training is progressing well," Eileen Lainez, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in an email. "While training is an essential component to meeting the standards described in the law, certification by the secretary (of Defense) and the chairman (of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) does not require 100 percent of our people to be trained."
The policy will remain in place until 60 days after senior military leaders and the president certify implementation the repeal will not compromise military readiness, unit cohesion and recruiting and retention.
House Republicans are trying to delay the repeal of DADT through a series of amendments to the defense authorization bill. But their efforts could be thwarted if repeal is certified before the legislation is finalized this fall.
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