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Aubrey Sarvis Headshot

Time for Action

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The time for polite and passive waiting has passed. Now it's action time. The signals coming out of the Obama camp have begun to dismay some of us. Eight weeks after the election the President-elect has not appointed one openly LGBT person to a high office in his Administration, which will be upon us in three short weeks.

In an affront to the LGBT community, he asked the Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of a California megachurch, to give the invocation at his inauguration. The preacher fought hard for Proposition 8 in California, putting committed gay relationships in the same bag with incest, polygamy, and "an older guy marrying a child." Nonetheless, some of Rev. Warren's best friends are gay. He says he has "eaten dinner in gay homes" and he likes the lesbian singer Melissa Etheridge. Who is that supposed to please?

The headline on Frank Rich's column in Sunday's New York Times read, "You're Likable Enough, Gay People." "Likable enough" is not enough.

But the choice of Mr. Warren is only a minor blip that will be forgotten, though not as soon as the President-elect might like. Most alarming to gay rights activists are the signals -- perhaps better to say lack of signals -- coming out of the Obama camp regarding the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT), which bans gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. The President-elect has long been a supporter of lifting the ban that puts the United States in the same company as those countries that regularly appear among the most egregious offenders in the State Department's annual Human Rights Report -- Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Syria, Uzbekistan, and so on. Mr. Obama's position is clear. The Party platform calls for open military service and a policy of non-discrimination. But since the election, the principles of fairness, justice, and civil rights for the LGBT community seems to have given way to the expediency of silence.

This will not do. As the New York Times pointed out in an editorial Sunday, "All qualified Americans who wish to serve should be embraced. That means dropping the ban on women serving in combat and repealing the insulting 'don't ask, don't tell' law that has marginalized gays."

Not only principles are at stake, but the continuing viability of our severely challenged armed forces. All qualified Americans who wish to serve must be embraced. The Times cited the commander of the Army recruiting station in Patchogue, N.Y., who said that "of those in his largely middle-class community who express interest in an Army career, roughly 70 percent do not qualify. They either have criminal charges against them, cannot pass the drug test or cannot pass the military qualifying test, which measures math and verbal proficiency."

In 2007, moral waivers granted to recruits with criminal records affected some 14,000 Army recruits (18 percent). And still open homosexuals need not apply?

Since the law was implemented in 1994, more than 12,500 service members have been discharged because the Pentagon didn't like their sexual orientation. Some 800 of these were deemed "mission critical." What kind of topsy-turvy world are we living in that says a convicted criminal is better Army material than an Arabic translator, say, who happens to be homosexual?

This might be risible if it were not so clearly detrimental to the security of our country. As the Times points out, "All the fancy planes, helicopters and high-tech weaponry mean nothing without competent forces. A military increasingly dependent on technological advances must maintain an increasingly well-educated and well-trained force." In 2007, only 79 percent of recruits had high school diplomas. Better a high school dropout than a homosexual with an advanced degree?

Is it any wonder that most Americans want this law to go, and sooner rather than later? Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Roll Call last week that it could still be a few years before anything changes. "It ought to be re-examined and it ought to be on the agenda, but it shouldn't be very high on the agenda. There are just too many other more important things to do."

A few years? No, Senator Levin. True, the economy is tanking and we are spending our youth and our treasure on two far-away wars that demand resolution. The Bush Administration is leaving us a world in considerably worse straits than the world it acquired when it took office eight years ago. Barack Obama will not find himself in an enviable position on January 20th. There are thousands of issues, major and minor, clamoring for his attention. Given the situation he will inherit, the issue of gays in the military cannot be his first or his second priority. We understand that the economy and jobs come first.

But it can't be his hundredth priority, either, and it can't wait until 2011 or 2012. When the Obama Administration and the Department of Defense, with the support of Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs, submit their budget modifications to the Hill next summer -- next summer -- they must include language explicitly providing for the repeal of DADT and the institution of open service -- the language contained in H.R. 1246, which had 149 co-sponsors in this Congress. To succeed, we need to start working together now.

President Clinton didn't do his homework in 1993. He announced repeal of the ban against homosexuals before he'd marshaled support for it. That's how for the sake of political expediency the LGBT community got thrown under the bus and our country and service members got stuck with DADT.

I think this President-elect will be good on his word and do the right thing in his usual measured and smart way. Surely he has no intention of becoming the third U.S. President to own DADT, but, sir, those summer hearings are coming and there are no signs of an action plan.

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