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Right-Wing Activists Plan Private D.C. Briefing on Gays in the Military

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Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) has learned that The Center for Military Readiness, a right-wing activist group based in Michigan, has invited leaders of prominent veterans services organizations to a Washington, D.C. briefing on Thursday that the organization has tried to keep secret. The event, outlined in a letter obtained exclusively by PFLAG, is described as "a private, off-the-record briefing" to strategize about how to battle efforts to repeal the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual troops.

"Given your organization's long-standing commitment to military readiness and the high standards and sound policy that promotes it, I hope I can count on you in joining CMR to defend the law regarding homosexual conduct in the military," CMR's Elaine Donnelly writes in the letter, which was sent by fax to VSO leaders in Washington. "We need to talk about what can be done, and why, face to face."

"Due to this issue's urgency," she continues, "this invitation is not transferrable to casual observers, interns or other non-executive support staff. This PowerPoint briefing, which includes short video excerpts of the July 23 House Armed Services Committee hearing on gays in the military, will cover everything you need to know to provide the type of principled, engaged leadership that only you can give. I would welcome new ideas and commitment that could turn the situation around."

The briefing, featuring CMR executive director Tommy Sears, will be held at the organization's Washington conference room, at 1615 L Street, N.W., Suite 650, on October 2nd from noon until 2:30pm.

It has long been a high-priority of Donnelly and other extremists to organize veterans services organizations to counter momentum in Congress, which has shifted to pro-repeal advocates over the past few years. As more and more veterans - such as retired Joint Chiefs Chairman John Shalikashvili and Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy - have joined efforts to topple the law, Donnelly has become increasingly desperate to find allies who will join her in advocating for the continued exclusion of lesbian and gay Americans from the armed forces.

Those efforts have failed miserably. In addition to the support of more than five dozen high-ranking military veterans, the effort to repeal the law is also supported by 148 lawmakers in the House of Representatives.

"[R]ight now the other side appears poised to win" on the issue, she says in the letter obtained by PFLAG.

Thursday's briefing in Washington is a last-minute, last-ditch effort by Donnelly to try and curry some small measure of influence on Capitol Hill. To do so, she is likely to give VSO leaders misinformation, as she has done with the press and the public, in order to mislead them on the issue and attempt to win them over to her side. As polls of military personnel show that young service members and veterans are overwhelmingly comfortable and ready to serve with gay colleagues, she is attempting to reach out to the older, more conservative VSO membership to try and rally support for her cause.

Donnelly, who has no military credentials, and is increasingly seen as nothing more than a homophobic bullhorn by Hill staff, is no doubt also trying to save face following a disastrous hearing in Congress earlier this summer.

The Center's appearance at the House hearings on the issue - the first held since "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was implemented in the mid 90s - was roundly panned and criticized as an out-of-touch, bigoted and bizarre performance. Lawmakers called Donnelly's testimony "dumb" and "an insult" to lesbian and gay service members and veterans.

"Donnelly treated the panel to an extraordinary exhibition of rage," Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank wrote the next day. She was also skewered by Daily Show host Jon Stewart.

"In this critical battle over the culture of our military - the only one we have - do you care who wins?" she asks in her invitation to the briefing.

The answer, of course, is yes. Our national security depends on having the best and brightest on duty, and anyone who cares about the best interests of our armed forces cares who wins. That's why so many people are campaigning to repeal this law . . . and why Elaine Donnelly is just left desperately grasping at straws.

And if July's hearings in Congress are any indication, Thursday afternoon should be the last, sad show that brings down the curtain on Donnelly's already-lost crusade.