Report from today’s NYU Law’s panel: ‘Are Conservatives the Most Effective LGBT Advocates?’

Posted on 21 Oct 2010 at 3:44am

Scott Blair, an AMERICAblog reader and NYU Law student, last wrote to us from Miami, where he was attending Lavender Law, the National LGBT Bar Association Annual Meeting. Today, he attened a panel at NYU’s Law School titled, “The Log Cabin Republicans’ Victory Against ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’: Are Conservatives the Most Effective LGBT Advocates?” The event was held in collaboration with NYU OutLaw. They had quite a panel. Here’s Scott’s report:

Today, NYU Law had a panel on DADT, Log Cabin Republicans v. The United States, and the state of the repeal of DADT after the Republican-led filibuster. Speaking at the panel were Richard Socarides, Bill Clinton’s LGBT advisor, R. Clarke Cooper, the Executive Director of the Log Cabin Republicans, and Aaron Tax, the Legal Director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN). The panel was moderated by Kenji Yoshino, a professor of Constitutional Law at the NYU School of Law.

Oddly, the panel didn’t focus so much on the legal strategy and prospects at the 9th Circuit and Supreme court of Log Cabin Republicans, but rather on how we ended up with no legislative repeal in site. The panel began with a discussion from Richard about how we ended up with DADT, and putting the failure of Clinton’s plan to let gays and lesbians serve openly in historic perspective. Even into George H.W. bush’s presidency, being gay was a possible security risk; no major countries let gays and lesbians serve openly; and the Democratic Chair of the Armed Services Committee, along with Colin Powell, came out forcefully opposed to the repeal, hosting a meeting of the Armed Services Committee in a submarine’s quarters to illustrate how gays would have to share bunk beds with straights. The media remained stuck on the issue, and Clinton, seeking a victory, worked with Barney Frank and others to come up with “Don’t’ Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue.”

There was an interesting remark from Richard about Clinton’s claim a few months back that he was told by Powell that DADT would let gay servicemen attend pride parades, live with a partner, etc. so long as they weren’t out at work. Quoting Richard, “That’s an example of all of us remembering what we want to remember. There’s a lot more to it.” As Kenji pointed out, immediately after DADT was passed, expulsions of gay and lesbians skyrocketed.

The panel then turned to Aaron discussing the law’s consequences, the extent of which may be unknown to even many proponents of repeal. Among SLDN’s clients have been a soldier who told his father he was gay, who then reported it to the military to get him discharged; people who told friends or family members they were gay before joining the military, and have it reach an enemy in the chain of command. Among the absurdities: a man who was threatened with discharge because he had a photograph with his arm around another man in his locker. The military stopped pursuing his discharge when he informed them it was a family photo with his cousin.

Clarke Cooper then talked about his experience on the case, which actually began
back in 2004, and then it moved onto his view of the Log Cabin Republicans. Given the fact that every single Republican filibustered the Defense Authorization bill which said that DADT would be repealed if the Joint Chiefs and the President sign on, there was a bit of flack from the audience about why they were pushing for more Republicans in Congress given their uniform opposition to gay rights. Cooper claimed that there were Republicans onboard for pushing for repeal, but Harry Reid’s procedural shenanigans made them all fall in line with the party and if it’s voted on after the elections it would get Republican support.

(I will say he isn’t the only person to make this claim. Servicemembers United made a similar claim in the period immediately before and after the failed vote.)

More interesting was the claim that when the Log Cabins lobbied for DADT’s repeal, they were often told by Republican Congressmen that they were the first people to visit and actually lobby for the repeal. I suspect this isn’t true, given what I know of SLDN, but it was worth mentioning. He was honest that the Republicans are less gay-friendly than the Democrats (to put it mildly), but I am sympathetic by the idea that if no one is pushing for gay rights in the GOP, then they will never change. I’d be more sympathetic if even “pro-gay” Republicans like Snowe and Brown didn’t vote against gay rights, but take it for what it’s worth. And more compelling is that the RNC has asked the Log Cabins to run campaign ads for GOP candidates in New York state, and that, compared to in the early 1990s, people are actively seeking their endorsements. And Cooper certainly had a point when he said whether you like it or not, the Democrats will not pass any legislation without some GOP support.

Ultimately, though, everyone at the panel was convinced that the Log Cabin Republicans’ victory has helped to keep the prospect of repeal alive. The sky hasn’t fallen since the repeal was issued, and despite the Pentagon’s claims, repeal won’t entail a host of new regulations and a new problem for the school. As Aaron Tax said, “all the repeal will do is not fire people for being gay.”




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