‘Honest and Open Testimony Act,’ introduced by Florida Democrat, would allow active military personnel to testify on policy without reprisal
U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., introduced an amendment this month to help combat the military’s "Don’t ask, don’t tell" policy, but no openly gay member of Congress has signed on.
Hastings calls the bill the "Honest and Open Testimony Act" (HR 4180) and says its intent is to enable "honest and open discussion" in Congressional hearings by active-duty LGBT service members "without fear of retribution."
"I realize that this issue is considered controversial," said Hastings, in introducing his bill Dec. 2, "but it should not be. As Congress prepares to debate the future of Don’t ask, don’t tell with hearings in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, we must ensure that we hear all sides of the issue and especially from active-duty GLBT service members."
Legislation to repeal DADT was introduced by Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Mass., in March, but the issue is widely expected to be addressed as an amendment to the defense spending authorization bill in early 2010.
Hastings said his Honest and Open Testimony Act would help promote repeal of DADT by addressing a "major barrier to an inclusive, transparent, and complete hearing process — fear of retribution for testifying honestly and openly about the consequences of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ in the Armed Forces."
But Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., one of three openly gay members of the House, says the bill’s not necessary.
For one thing, he notes, "we have plenty of people who have already been thrown out" to testify. And for another, he says it would set a bad precedent of allowing members of the military to go before Congress and disagree with their commanding officers on military policies.
"It’s a mistake to start setting exceptions," said Frank.
Reps. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., and Jared Polis, D-Colo., are also openly gay and did not sign on; their offices did not respond to requests for comment. Rep. Murphy hasn’t signed on either.
But 27 members of Congress have co-sponsored the bill, including Reps. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., Jim Moran, D-Va., John Dingell, D-Mich., and eight representatives from California.
Nathaniel Frank, senior research fellow at the Palm Center, which studies issues regarding LGBT people in the military, said he thinks members of Congress "need to hear from those most affected by the law."
"You can’t expect a legitimate and informed debate over repeal if you keep gay troops in the closet," Frank said in a press release on Dec. 2.
Another attempt by Hastings to push against the DADT policy was also shot down earlier this year.
Hastings introduced an amendment to prohibit the Defense Department from spending any federal funds to enforce its policy against gays. Hastings later withdrew the measure, saying he had been pressured to do so by "my Congressional colleagues and from the White House."
In his remarks introducing the bill, Hastings noted that more than 13,500 service members have, since the policy was implemented in 1994, been discharged for being gay.
Â© 2009 Keen News Service
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 18, 2009.