WASHINGTON -- The military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy will become history on Sept. 20, but for active-duty gays and lesbians planning to celebrate its demise, there are still plenty of do's and don'ts to keep in mind.
In a blog post Monday, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) released guidelines on the types of parties gays in uniform may attend under Pentagon policy. SLDN and other gay rights and political groups plan to hold celebrations in locations across the country to signal the end of the 17-year-old policy that bans open service in the military by gays and lesbians.
"Service members must remember that it is important to continue to obey the other rules and regulations that govern their conduct," wrote David McKean, SLDN's legal director. "Many service members want to attend these celebrations, and some might want to speak at them. The extent and type of participation will depend on the nature of the event as defined under military rules."
McKean spelled out the varying kinds of celebrations and whether they adhered to Defense Department rules on political activity:
We expect that most of the DADT repeal celebrations will be just that -- celebrations of the repeal of a bad law. No special rules apply to attendance at or participation in such events.
Service members, including those on active duty, should be able to attend these events as a spectator-celebrant and also to participate in them. They may wear their uniforms and speak as individuals about the importance of repeal to them personally and to the services generally. They may say that they are happy and proud that they now do not have to hide their sexual orientation, etc. They should not, of course, criticize their commanders (or past commanders) or elected officials or urge the election or defeat of candidates for office.
Because of their programs, however, other events might be considered non-partisan political events -- events relating to issues not identified with a political party. Such an event could be one that included, for example, speeches advocating LGBT equality and solicitation of contributions to LGBT rights groups.
A service member, including one on active duty, may attend such an event as a spectator and may participate in it, but may not wear the uniform and may not do anything to suggest official sponsorship or endorsement.
A third type of event is the partisan political event -- one relating to candidates representing political parties. We would not expect any of the DADT repeal celebrations to fall into this category. A service member on active duty may attend such an event as a spectator if not in uniform, but may not speak at or otherwise participate in it. A member not on active duty may participate, but only in a way that does not give rise to the inference or appearance of official sponsorship or endorsement.
Finally, an active duty service member may not engage in fundraising for an LGBT equality cause or any other political cause at the DADT celebration if it is held on a military base or reservation.