Listen in at 11PM ET/8PM PT to A Different View: Women’s Perspectives on the Prohibition War (@ADV420) w/hosts Iva Cunningham, Jennifer Alexander & Serra Frank. One of my former baristas, Radical Russ Belville and his wife Iva have long been a part of the legalization movement, and they are inviting activists from other rights movements to discuss what has worked/not worked as we navigate the legal and political waters. Russ noted to me:
The show, like all our shows, focuses on marijuana law reform activism, but the idea we’ve been mulling over is bringing in activists from other civil rights activism to help our community learn the best lessons. Specifically, there are many allusions made in our community to “coming out of the (smoky) closet” and being “out and proud” and I think a discussion of the parallels and differences between the LGBT and the legalization communities would be very interesting.
While it is way past my bedtime, I thought it was important to open up the discussion. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like LGBT equality struggles have much in common with the marijuana reform movement (this from someone who’s never consumed cannibis in any form — or done any illicit drugs for that matter — and I don’t smoke cigarettes and rarely drink alcohol — yes, I’m THAT square), but what we’re really talking about is how assertive is any rights movement willing to be to advance its cause.
It has come up in several conversations about how successful the LGBT movement has been during President Obama’s term in the White House, specifically in seeing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repealed, and his statement on marriage equality, something that caused quite a bit of a domino effect in allowing many public figures in the faith, entertainment and political communities of color to “come out” as well, either in benign or affirming support.
I have to laugh, because this question is asked by many progressives — people whose pet issues have been neglected/kicked down the road by this administration (pick a cause — civil liberties, environment, immigration reform, etc.). These are the same folks who told the LGBT community back when the President’s White House was first open for business:
* “Give him time, he just got into office…wait a few months”
* “He’s only been in office a few months…”
* “We need him to pass health care reform” (yeah, his admin can’t walk and chew gum at the same time)
* “Can’t you wait – the midterms are coming up”
Well, eventually LGBTs outside of the establishment leadership, including GetEQUAL, tired of the slow movement, and made some noise and headlines that didn’t make our professional advocates or this White House very happy, including protests at fundraisers and on the Hill. But the sheer embarrassment factor moved the ball forward, even if no credit is given for its effect on the process.
The fact is that DADT repeal was not a project spearheaded by this President, but he’s quite proud to tout it as a major LGBT accomplishment of this term as we move into the 2012 re-elections. Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy to give him credit — it certainly couldn’t have been done without his eventual leadership, but Michael Bedwell, who was one of the 13 activists arrested for chaining themselves to the White House fence reminds us about the real history of DADT repeal, something activists in other movements need to take note of; what is your movement willing to do to shake loose the political inertia?
Take a look at the DADT timeline below the fold.
1. CANDIDATE BARACK OBAMA, November 29, 2007: “As president, I WILL WORK WITH CONGRESS AND PLACE THE WEIGHT OF MY ADMINISTRATION BEHIND ENACTMENT OF THE MILITARY READINESS ENHANCEMENT ACT, WHICH WILL MAKE NONDISCRIMINATION THE OFFICIAL POLICY OF THE U.S. MILITARY. … That work should have started long ago. It will start when I take office. America is ready to get rid of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. ALL THAT IS REQUIRED IS LEADERSHIP.”
2. Betraying that explicit campaign promise to start personally fighting for repeal the moment he took office, the “Boston Globe” reported less than two weeks after he was sworn in that, “One senior officer… said staff officers for Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have been told it will be several months at the earliest—possibly not even this year—until the top brass will be formally asked to weigh in on a change in policy. And even then, he said, the military has been assured it will have wide latitude to undertake a detailed study of how a change in the policy would affect the military.”
3. SLDN EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AUBREY SARVIS, HUFFINGTON POST, FEBRUARY 2, 2009: “Please, Mr. President, no more studies. . . . Another study’, is Washington-speak for saying ‘let’s just kick this down the road a ways.’ out of sight, out of mind. …It could easily take a year … let’s be clear: a commission or a study group is not about change. That’s business as usual. We do not need another report to tell us what we already know and what earlier reports have long since concluded: the sexual orientation of a service member is irrelevant.”
4. Though he repeatedly said that ending discharges was not only a matter of justice but that they “weaken national security,” Obama REFUSED to use his unequivocal legal authority under federal law 10 United States Code 12305 to stop discharges in the name of national security, causing DADT expert Dr. Nathaniel Frank to write in “The Huffington Post”: “Why does Obama use executive power for everything but gay troops?” Thus, on his watch, some 800 more gay and lesbian service members were needlessly kicked to the curb at a cost to taxpayers in lost recruiting, training, and replacement expenses reaching into the millions of dollars.
5. Despite urging from SLDN, Obama REFUSED to include repeal in his personal submission to the 2010 defense authorization bill.
6. Obama’s DOJ fought lawsuits against DADT tooth and nail, defending its “constitutionality” again and again and again, convincing the Supremes to kill one, and repeatedly using ruthless tactics to try to kill the now-famous Log Cabin [LCR] case EVEN BEFORE IT CAME TO TRIAL.
7. THE ADVOCATE, JUNE 15, 2009: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says they need leadership from the President on repeal, and urges him to freeze discharges with an executive order pending repeal.
8. JUNE 25, 2009:DADT repeal advocate and Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin says that repeal “requires presidential leadership. This cannot be addressed successfully without that kind of leadership.”
9. THE NEW REPUBLIC, JULY 6, 2009: “As for the political risks: Obama should look at some polls. Unlike same-sex marriage, the question of whether gays should serve openly in the military is no longer a particularly controversial issue. … Obama is not afraid to push health care reform, send more troops to Afghanistan, or stand by his stimulus program—nor should he be. But why, when it comes to the far less controversial cause of gays serving in the military, is he apparently willing to punt?”
10. SEPTEMBER 24, 2009. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sends a letter to the President and gates. “Your leadership in this matter is greatly … needed at this time.”
11. He did not ask Congress to work on repeal until a year after he was sworn in, promised to work with them, then disappeared.
12. As predicted in that “Boston Globe” article 1 year and 1 day before, holdover Repug Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, claiming he’d had a virtual religious conversion about the ban he’d defended his entire career, announced that, nevertheless, of course, they’d have to study “how” to implement any repeal even though they’d already paid [read taxpayers] millions for a similar study in 1993. They insisted it had nothing to do with polling nongay troops’ opinions on repeal, and, then, did just that. But the worst aspect was the timeline they insisted upon, backed by Obama, which would prevent any vote on repeal until just before the midnight hour ending that session of Congress which meant that if it failed for any reason, the next session in which the House would be controlled by Repugs would kill it for at least two more years.
13. A couple of months later, Barney Frank said he feared that Obama was signaling by his backing of such delays and failure to keep his January promise to work with Congress that he did not WANT a vote on repeal.
14. Despite urging from SLDN, Obama REFUSED to include repeal in his personal submission to the 2011 defense authorization bill.
15. METROWEEKLY, MARCH 26, 2010: “Asked if repeal efforts would succeed this year, Rep. Barney Frank said, ‘’I hope so. I THINK THE PRESIDENT’S GOT TO STEP UP MORE. I’ve talked to both Sen. [Carl] Levin [D-Mich.] and Rep. Murphy, and we’re still trying to do that. IT’S HARDER WITH THE ADMINISTRATION’.’ Following up on what he previously referred to as the ‘’ambiguous’’ nature of the White House’s support for a repeal this year, Rep. Frank said, ‘THEY’RE DUCKING. BASICALLY, YEAH, THEY’RE NOT BEING SUPPORTIVE, AND they’re letting Gates be the spokesman, which is a great mistake’. Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, echoed Frank’s comments, saying in a statement, ”With health insurance reform passed and a successful conclusion reached, now is the time for MORE VISIBLE AND AGGRESSIVE LEADERSHIP FROM THE WHITE HOUSE TO push for a vote this year.”
16. TALKING POINTS MEMO, MAY 26, 2010: “The final push [for ‘repeal’] came from the Hill, where key members of Congress who support ‘repeal’, like Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), the powerful chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made it clear that they were moving forward with “repeal” legislation with or without the WHITE HOUSE’S blessing. ‘LEVIN AND OTHERS MADE IT CLEAR THAT THE TRAIN WAS LEAVING THE STATION AND THE WHITE HOUSE NOT ONLY WAS NOT CONDUCTING BUT THEY WEREN’T EVEN ON BOARD’, Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, an advocacy group for gays in the military, said in an interview with TPMDC. ‘THEY WERE BACKED INTO A CORNER AND IT WAS BLATANTLY OBVIOUS SO THEY FINALLY DECIDED TO GET ON BOARD’.”
17. Then, rather than keep his promise to personally fight for the ORIGINAL repeal bill he backed the Pentagon’s demand that it be totally gutted. No less than then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi admitted to reporters in May of last year that Pelosi said THE HOUSE WEAKENED ITS REPEAL LANGUAGE TO MOLLIFY THE WHITE HOUSE. Military leaders REFUSED TO ACCEPT LANGUAGE THAT WOULD BAR DISCRIMINATION, so the clause was dropped.” – “The Huffington Post,” June 3, 2010.
The clause referred to would have created a new FEDERAL LAW, along with repeal, that would have banned any kind of discrimination against gays IN the military. Because Obama backed Gates, while one era of military homophobia ends on Tuesday, another begins in which gay and lesbian service members will be officially denied the level of protections against harassment and discrimination in such things as assignments, evaluations, and promotions than other groups such as blacks and women have. The murder of that clause also empowers the Pentagon to deny our partners crucial benefits such as access to military family housing that even THEY admit are NOT banned by DOMA—AND leaves NOTHING to prevent a future President, Congress, or Pentagon from bringing the ban back in some form.
18. In October of 2010, while repeal was hung up in the Senate, Obama did something constitutional law experts insisted he did not HAVE to do—he appealed the ruling in the LCR case that found DADT unconstitutional. If he had NOT appealed, DADT would have died forever on the court floor with no NEED for Congress to act.
19. November 8, 2010, The Wall Street Journal: “The drive in Congress to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy appears all but lost for the foreseeable future, with action unlikely this year and even less likely once Republicans take charge of the House in January. … Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and John McCain of Arizona, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, are in talks on stripping the proposed repeal and other controversial provisions from a broader defense bill, leaving the repeal with no legislative vehicle to carry it. … Asked what the White House priorities are for the coming congressional session, press secretary Robert Gibbs named four issues—tax cuts, a nuclear-arms treaty with Russia, a child nutrition bill and confirmation of Jack Lew as White House budget director. Asked why he wouldn’t put gays in the military on the list, Mr. Gibbs said it looked like Republicans would block action.”
20. November 15, 2010: expanding on three previous civil disobedience actions, 13 are arrested at the White House protesting the President’s absence from the fight for repeal.
21. Two years into his presidency, ONE WEEK prior to the final repeal vote in December 2010, Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin said that OBAMA WAS STILL NOT DOING ENOUGH TO HELP THEM.
22. When repeal finally did pass within a heartbeat of falling into the Congressional abyss, and after final release of the “study” that (A) cost taxpayers anywhere from 4.5 to 9 million dollars, and, (B) revealed that the majority of troops were ready for repeal THEN, Obama REFUSED to do what he easily could have done—immediately certify meaning the ban would have ended two months later. Instead he backed the Pentagon’s next excuse for delay—so-called “training” to which DADT expert and Palm Center Director Dr. Aaron Belkin responded, emphasis mine: “The Pentagon could easily repeal the ban TODAY if there was the POLITICAL will. THE FOOT-DRAGGING IS NOT ABOUT SOME SINCERE OR LEGITIMATE SENSE THAT THE TROOPS NEED TO BE TRAINED ON HOW TO DEAL WITH GAYS; it’s because [homophobic brass about to retire] don’t want to be around when the policy happens.”
23. The Center released a study concluding, emphasis mine: “Any claim that [implementation cannot happen] until after the completion of exhaustive training is inconsistent with DoD history and not based on military necessity. Whatever preparations are ultimately deemed necessary, the Pentagon ought to be able to pull them off faster than it did the implementation of DADT in 1994, WHICH TOOK APPROXIMATELY 40 DAYS. Case studies demonstrate that training can take place quickly, even in combat zones, and that policies are generally implemented BEFORE OR CONCURRENT WITH training.”
24. While the “training” went on which their own study had proven was unnecessary, exactly what the 1993 study predicted would happen if change was delayed—Repugs in Congress and homophobes in the military taking advantage of the vacuum to try to further delay or overturn repeal. And even investigations of suspected gays continued months after Congress voted for repeal and the Commander-in-Chief signed it.
25. While the “training” went on, Obama suddenly reversed himself on his claim that he “had” to defend DOMA in court, and praised “heightened scrutiny” regarding “laws that classify people based on sexual orientation.” His DOJ even began to SIDE WITH gay plaintiffs they fought against for two years. BUT, while DADT is also unequivocally based on sexual orientation, he REFUSED to apply it to that law and is STILL, to this very minute, fighting application of the Log Cabin Republican case ruling that the ban is unconstitutional when, again, thanks to his betrayal of the original repeal bill, upholding that ruling is now the ONLY thing that could prevent a future Prez, Pentagon, or Congress from bringing the ban back. Further, he is fighting an ACLU class action lawsuit to restore 100% of separation pay to eligible discharged gays, and hounding DADT victims such as Dan Choi, Mara Boyd, and Justin Knight for repayment of so-called “unearned” pay.
26. 22 days after Gates retired saying they weren’t ready to certify, his replacement did just that, which brought us to Tuesday, and the end of one era of military antigay discrimination—and the beginning of a new one.
27. Two days after actual repeal of the ban in September 2011, Obama’s DOJ continued their inexplicable fight to convince the Circuit Court to reverse the Log Cabin case ruling that discrimination against gays in the military is unconstitutional. This time they succeeded, and, thus, Mr. Obama reopened the door for the ban to be brought back, and discrimination against gays IN the military in terms of protections against harassment and discrimination, as well as those partner benefits NOT banned by DOMA, continues.
IN SUM, there is a case that repeal happened in spite of Obama not because of him.