In a historic first, the Pentagon's top leaders called this week for an end to "don't ask, don't tell," the policy preventing gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the armed forces.
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen announced the formation of a working group charged with developing a plan "to create full equality and full access to all of the benefits and obligations required by military service" in about a year's time.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, commented as she prepared in Texas today for this weekend's annual gathering of her group.
"We thank Gates and Mullen for their strong statements. We have called on the president to find a way for people to serve openly, and it appears he is trying, though we are not satisfied with the length of this timeline," Carey said. "We continue to call for the immediate halt to all discharges of service members because of their sexual orientation until Congress fulfills its responsibility to overturn this archaic, unjust law."
The Taskforce continues to call out lawmakers, particularly Republican Senators, for their role in continuing the discriminatory policy. Several Republican senators on the Armed Services Committee, describing the current policy as one of "live and let live," favor continuing the current law.
"Committee members like Sens. Chambliss and Sessions have their head in the sand on the true impact of the existing law," said Carey. "Contrary to their statements, the real story is ‘Live and don't make a living. Live and lie.' The military has already had 16 years to think about this and other countries have been able to implement equality in the armed services. Let's get moving."
Gay rights organizations are insisting that the working group mentioned by Pentagon leaders draft a comprehensive new policy that guarantees full equality for gay and lesbian service members.
They want a policy, for example, that would not restrict gay or bisexual service members from exhibiting their sexual orientation on the job if straight service members are not similarly restricted.
They are also saying that the Pentagon should be obligated to provide for domestic partners and that the domestic partners of gay service members should receive the same treatment as domestic partners of straight service members.
Gay activists, meanwhile, are reminding the public that elimination of ‘don't ask don't tell" is only one step and that much more must be done to achieve full equality. They note that all over the United States workplaces, for example, remain dangerous places for LGBT people and that at those workplaces they can still be fired for who they are.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task force points out that it's still legal in 29 states to fire someone because of their sexual orientation. In 38 states, people can be fired for being transgender - not fitting in to gender stereotypes.
"The president's push to hold hearings on this is a step in the right direction," writes Laura Flanders in The Nation today, but "what we need now is an inclusive employment non-discrimination act that applies to all jobs, and all people, not just the military, and we need it now."
Photo: AP Jacquelyn Martin