Dave Guy-Gainer, CMSgt, USAF (retired) and a board member for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network was in Washington, D.C., recently for the SLDN Lobby Day, board meetings and annual dinner.
With Congress teetering on the cusp of actually repealing the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy — which keeps gays and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. military and which has prompted the discharge of more than 14,000 men and women since it was enacted 17 years ago — this trip was especially poignant for Guy-Gainer, who lives in Forest Hills, near Fort Worth, with his husband.
Here is his account of the trip:
Last week, we made our annual trip to Washington, D.C., for the whirlwind four days of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network’s Lobby Day, annual dinner and board meetings.
This is our fifth and hopefully last trip in the fight to repeal “Don’t ask don’t tell.” We went up there a day early so I could have time to visit with staff and the 140 people who came from across the nation to lobby. I saw many of those who have crusaded for the last 17 years and, not surprisingly, scores of new faces.
Sitting just inside the office door when I arrived was Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach. His energy, hope and perpetual smile nearly overshadow the fact that his 18-year career as a decorated fighter pilot is under attack. We laughed at the fact that I was the first Air Force chief to ever introduce his husband to him.
The tone of Lobby Day this year was very focused and all work. No rally was held. Meetings were prearranged for the lobby teams who worked even through lunch. The mission: Seek out and confirm more co-sponsors for House Bill 1283 (191 co-sponsors) and Senate Bill 3065 (26 co-sponsors).
As sons of West Virginia, Dallas’ Pepe Johnson and I visited with the staff of the entire West Virginia congressional contingent — both senators and all three representatives. We were accompanied by Maj. Gen. Dennis Laich, Tommy Cook (SLDN’s named plaintiff in Cook v. Gates) and two other casualties of DADT.
We found that, although they have not signed on as co-sponsors, the West Virginia representatives, senators and their staff are well-versed in the issues surrounding DADT. The discussion this year was no longer focused on “education” but turned instead to strategy and when — not “if” and “why.”
We dropped off thank you cards to all of the current co-sponsors and supporters. At the end of the day, Tommy and I dropped by the office of Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, a Democrat from San Antonio. Charlie was there and welcomed us to visit with him between his meetings. Although somewhat “healthcare weary,” he spent 20 minutes with us, engaging in strategy discussions and encouraging us to continue the fight.
I felt a welcome place in the marble halls of the Hill.
Tattooed clearly in my mind is the fact that we must turn up the volume at home. We cannot be reticent.
In the 17-year life of DADT, this is the best year in history to kill it. Polls show that in excess of 78 percent of the nation favors its repeal. Somewhat astoundingly, 58 percent of conservative Christians who worship at least weekly agree with repeal.
We all must work harder now to increase the number of committed votes and strengthen the foundation beneath both bills.
Attendees at the SLDN National Dinner filled the Building Museum. There was an almost eerie tone of “we are so very close that we want to celebrate but we can’t — yet.”
Speaking of celebrating, Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns and his partner, J.D. Angle, attended the dinner as part of their 17th anniversary celebration.
The audience ranged from older fighters like Frank Kameny and Pat and Wally Kutteles (the parents of Barry Winchell), to newer faces like Rachel Maddow and Rep. Patrick Murphy.
The audience was filled with uniforms. Active duty and retired members of all of our services were smartly dressed, as were those in uniform from Great Britain and Australia.
Our allied organizations were well represented too, from HRC to the fledgling Fairness West Virginia. It was a wonderful evening, but I so much look forward to next year’s celebration of victory.
Michael Magee, SLDN co-chair, expressed my bottom line precisely when he wrote: “Despite what some may say, SLDN, HRC , the Center for American Progress, Servicemembers United and others are working collaboratively together. Each organization has their own mission and, yes, every now and then there are tactical disagreements.
“But, one thing we do not disagree on is that anything other than full repeal this year is a non-starter. Nor can we ever forget for whom we fight this battle, because each and every day service members pack up their uniforms for the final time due to nothing more than being who they are.”
If there was ever a time for all members of our community to stand and join the battle, that time is now. Organizations of all types — gay, straight, social, political, religious — must rise and help push DADT over the cliff and into the abyss of history.
We have miles to go and so little time.