GUEST POST: Mountaineers Deliver Message to Senator Manchin

The following is a guest post from U.S. Army Veteran and repeal advocate Pepe Johnson:

Today Jared Towner and I carried hundreds of petitions and individual letters to the office of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin III calling on him to support the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Fairness WV created an election petition Monday morning and in less than 36 hours gathered the names of hundreds of Mountaineers who support integrity and equality in our armed forces. On top of the petition were added numerous handwritten letters from more constituents collected by various volunteers including the WVU Young Democrats.

As I printed the petitions out the night before I was moved. There were names from all over the Mountain State – from Shepherdstown to Bluefield, over to Logan, up the Ohio River Valley to Ripley, Wellsburg and Newell, into the heart of the mountains in Elkins, and across the central and southern part of the state picking up places like Sutton, Hinton, Craigsville, Poca and too many mountain hometowns to mention in this blog post.

I recognized some of the names, too. There were elementary school teachers and high school principals, doctors and nurses, ministers, department store clerks and oil field workers. And a lot of veterans – people I’ve met along the journey we’ve taken in West Virginia for DADT this year. There were friends and family – people I’ve known all my life and new friends I’ve made.

Across this state there are people that truly believe in our state’s motto and believe it applies to everyone – including LGBT Mountaineers. We took their message to Senator Manchin today and we’ll continue to remind him that “Mountaineers are always free.”


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

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Veterans Across Ohio Push Senator Voinovich to Stand Up for Repeal

Yesterday, HRC held simultaneous public forums with veterans affected by the harmful “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy in Cleveland and Columbus.  The events, covered by local media, were held at the Cleveland City Hall where Senator George Voinovich cut his political teeth decades ago as Cleveland Mayor, and the Ohio Statehouse where he served as Governor.  Repeal advocates wanted to respectfully remind the Senator that he has bucked the more conservative elements of his party when it was the right thing to do – as it is the right thing to do with repealing this discriminatory law.

In Cleveland, Major General Dennis Laich and Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman were joined by four Ohio veterans who stood up to tell their stories and make their voices heard.  Brian Tupaz, Robert Tackett, Marie Bohousch and Mark Szabo each took to the stage to share publicly their personal experience with DADT.  Their stories serve as a painful reminder of how this law has failed our service members and our country.

Two and a half hours south by southwest, at the Ohio Statehouse, Claudia Mason and David Goetz echoed those in Cleveland and called on Senator Voinovich to publicly declare his support for DADT repeal. They reminded him that he has stood on the side of equality before, voting in favor of the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hates Crimes Prevention Act last year, and should honor the 14,000 service members who have been discharged under this discriminatory law by voting to end this law.

Claudia, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel from Dayton, is a straight ally and is outspoken about the importance of repealing this law. She called on Senator Voinovich to join his fellow Buckeye, Senator Sherrod Brown and listen to the recommendation from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary Gates in supporting repeal this year.

Also this week, members of the Columbus steering committee joined Collin and me at the Ohio Democratic Party offices to call repeal supporters and urge them to call on Senator Voinovich to support repeal this year. If you’re a Buckeye, make your voice heard by calling Senator Voinovich at 202.224.3353.

We’ll be putting the pressure on Senator Voinovich and urging him to join the ranks of supportive Republicans like Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year. Now is the last opportunity for Voinovich to stand on the side of equality. With a vote in the Senate on repeal of DADT expected as early as Saturday morning, Senator Voinovich needs to hear from you NOW!


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

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Massachusetts Veterans Call on Senator Scott Brown to End DADT

Wow.  I just returned from a great press event hosted by HRC and MassEquality at which three Massachusetts veterans told stories about their service under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and called upon Senator Scott Brown to fulfill his commitment to vote for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before senators leave for the holidays.

Travis Hengen was discharged from the Army as a Chief Warrant Officer 2 under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” ending a nearly 12-year career as an interrogator and counterintelligence agent.  Over the span of his career, Travis grew increasingly frustrated with listening to fellow soldiers discuss their private lives, all the while being forced to keep his own life a total secret. In June 2002, Travis decided to no longer hide his sexual orientation and came out to his commander, triggering a discharge process that lasted for seven months.  Despite the humiliation of being investigated, Travis never regretted his decision to serve or to be honest about himself.  Since his discharge, Travis has graduated from San Diego State University with distinction with a B.A. in International Security and Conflict Resolution.  Travis currently lives with his husband in Boston where he is completing a M.S. degree in Healthcare Emergency Management at Boston University School of Medicine.

Michael Young is a straight supporter of repeal and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who served from 2004 through 2007 with 3rd FAST  Company, Security Force Battalion on missions in the U.S. and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  FAST (Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team) is a unique unit responsible for guarding government and military targets around the globe whenever they are threatened.

John Affuso enlisted in the Army in 1986 and completed infantry basic training at Fort Benning.  After receiving his commission through the Army ROTC program at Rutgers University, he became a Signal Platoon Leader in the 50th Armored Division of the New Jersey Army National Guard.  John is an Honor Graduate of the US Army Signal Officer Basic Course at Fort Gordon.  After choosing to not re-enlist, in large part due to DADT, he was honorably discharged from the US Army Reserve in the mid 1990’s, having attained the rank of first lieutenant. Like Senator Brown, John is a graduate of Boston College Law School.

When I returned to the office after this event, I was thrilled to see the ABC News report that Senator Brown will support the stand-alone DADT repeal bill.

“Sen. Brown accepts the Pentagon’s recommendation to repeal the policy after proper preparations have been completed. If and when a clean repeal bill comes up for a vote, he will support it,” said Brown spokesperson Gail Gitcho.

Having been in Massachusetts several times this year working with HRC and MassEquality organizers, it’s extremely gratifying to see Senator Brown’s most recent statement.  With just days left in the current session of Congress, the time is now to repeal DADT.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

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Hoosiers Keep Pressure on Senator Lugar

This following comes from HRC Field Organizer Brian Griffin:

After last week’s failed vote on the National Defense Authorization Act, we here in Indiana did not let up. We continued the pressure on Senator Lugar to make sure he does the right thing by supporting the stand-alone bill introduced last week that would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” We joined Organizing for America in Indiana to phone bank for repeal. Constituents were connected to Senator Lugar’s voicemail to urge him to continue to support DADT repeal this year.

Yesterday, 20-year Army veteran Scott Spychala stopped into the Senator’s office in Indianapolis and dropped off over 350 letters, postcards and petition signatures gathered from all over the state. The letters and postcards came from students, veterans and supporters urging him to support the stand-alone bill.

Now that this bill has passed the House, we need more than ever to keep the pressure on the Senate. If you know a Hoosier or are a Hoosier, make sure to call Senator Lugar’s office and let him know you support repeal. He needs to hear from you now! Call his office and leave him a message at 202.224.4814. You can join us for stop-and-dial events all week long.  If you have an hour to give this week contact me at brian.griffin@hrc.org and let me know that you want to help repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

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Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) Says She’ll Vote for ‘DADT’ Repeal

As the measure to repeal "DADT" now heads to the Senate for approval, Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine says she'll do the right thing.

Said Snowe in a statement: Snowe.jpg

"After careful analysis of the comprehensive report compiled by the Department of Defense and thorough consideration of the testimony provided by the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the service chiefs, I support repeal of the 'don’t ask, don’t tell' law."

Snowe was a "no" vote in last week's failed attempt to pass the Defense authorization bill with 'DADT' repeal attached as an amendment.


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I’ve got your pastors right here, Senator McCain

In his latest email to supporters, Tony Perkins cited his “frequent conversations over the last several months” with Senator John McCain about DADT repeal and related this exchange:

Senator McCain…asked me several times: “Where are all the religious leaders, where are the pastors?”.

Tony Perkins heads up the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council.

Senator McCain, I’ve got your pastors right here.  Back in September over 500 ordained clergy signed the Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Sexual and Gender Diversity and delivered a copy to every member of Congress, including Senator McCain.

The letter and the endorsements were sent to remind members of the Congress that millions of people of faith support the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in society, including the right to serve in the military, marriage equality and banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Presidents and deans of leading seminaries and key officials at national denominations are among the Open Letter’s endorsers.

We ask the Senate to vote repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell this week, and pray that this Congress will repeal DOMA and pass ENDA before the end of the fall,” said Rev. Debra W. Haffner, the Executive Director of the Religious Institute. “As religious leaders, we believe we have an obligation to create a world that embraces the diversity and dignity of God’s creation. Members of Congress, can assure full inclusion.”

What’s more, over 3,500 clergy and other religious leaders from more than 50 faith traditions have signed the Religious Declaration on Sexaul Morality, Justice, and Healing which states:

Sexuality is God’s life-giving and life-fulfilling gift.  We come from diverse religious communities to recognize sexuality as central to our humanity and as integral to our spirituality.  We are speaking out against the pain, brokenness, oppression and loss of meaning that many experience about their sexuality. [snip]

God hears the cries of those who suffer from the failure of religious communities to address sexuality.  We are called today to see, hear and respond to the suffering caused by sexual abuse and violence against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons, the HIV pandemic, unsustainable population growth and over-consumption, and the commercial exploitation of sexuality.

The Declaration calls for “Religious leadership in movements to end sexual and social injustice.”

According to Harry Knox, a member of The President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and director of Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith program:

“[Progressive] faith communities care about justice for everyone.” Therefore, “thousands of faith leaders are using social networking, their teaching and preaching opportunities, and their voices as prophetic leaders in the public square to amplify God’s call to remove the barriers to service for lesbian and gay people,” he continued.

“[F]aith leaders have been making their own congregants aware of how DADT harms gay and lesbian service members and also harms our country at a time when skilled members of the military are needed more than ever,” Knox said. However, advocacy on behalf of lesbian and gay servicemembers is not limited to the pulpit, he noted, adding that faith leaders: ‘also have been advocating with members of Congress about the need for repeal through events like the Human Rights Campaign’s Clergy Call lobby event and through clergy sign-on letters and letters to the editor. Retired chaplains have been speaking out to tell the truth about DADT and to tell their own powerful stories of pastoral ministry to lesbian and gay service members who were denied the freedom to serve their country simply because of who they are.”

If the Senator is interested in what the laity thinks, he is directed to the poll “Most Continue to Favor Gays Serving Openly in Military” released on November 29th by Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
The poll found that almost every religious group surveyed supports repeal of DADT.  Only white evangelicals, a group making up about 23% of the American population, approached a majority opposing repeal (48%).  White mainline Protestants (62%), Black Protestants (52%) and Catholics (63%) all favor repeal of the ban on military service by open gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

Among those who attend church weekly, an even 40% both supported and opposed repeal of DADT.  At least 66% of less-frequent churchgoers support repeal.

Overall, a paltry 27% of Americans oppose the repeal of DADT.
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HRC and SLDN Bring WV Veteran Voices to Senator Manchin

In West Virginia, we’re pulling out all the stops to show newly elect Senator Manchin that supporting the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is the right thing to do. Yesterday, veterans Pepe Johnson and Jared Towner joined SLDN staff member Jeremy Wilson to meet with the Senator’s staff in Washington, D.C. to discuss how DADT has affected each of them.

The group also delivered a video, which was collaboration between the Human Rights Campaign and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network that highlighted the stories of Mountaineer veterans, straight and gay, from around the state.

Jared Towner, who has served three tours of duty in Iraq and is a West Virginia Young Democrat and former staffer for Manchin’s senate campaign, had this to say about yesterday’s meeting:

It was good to see my friends from the Repeal cause again today.  We met with Senator Manchin’s Legislative Aid Joe Ann McLaughlin and his military fellow Sylvia Pletos to talk about the absolute need to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” As a straight veteran who has served in combat, I am fully in support of repeal. I lobbied the late Senator Byrd before his historic vote to support repeal and I will keep fighting until we see the end of this discriminatory law.

While our audience at Senator Manchin’s office was engaged and responsive, we cannot rest on our laurels and assume that the vote is won. We must, as an active constituency, reassure Senator Manchin that his vote for the repeal is what’s best for WV and the nation as a whole.

I made my voice heard today, and I’m asking that you do the same. Please call his D.C. Office at (202) 224-3954 to urge Senator Manchin to support repeal. Our Senator needs to hear from you right now to ensure the end of this repressive and dangerous policy.

Do you live in the Charleston area? We need your help! Please contact me at Christine.Sloane@hrc.org to find out ways to get involved over the coming week. We simply can’t do this without you.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

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No Senate Vote Today – Make Sure to Call Your Senator

We told you earlier that a vote could come as soon as today on the National Defense Authorization Act — the bill to which repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is attached.  Senators have been negotiating all day about the procedure by which they’ll bring up the bill.  A little while ago, we received word that there won’t be any further votes tonight.

It is our understanding that negotiations to get legislation to repeal DADT done this year have been productive and are trending positively. Every day for the past week, more and more senators have announced their intention to be on the right side of history and support repeal, but the only measure of success is final passage of the defense bill with DADT repeal intact.

Keep your calls going into Senate offices.  We’re so close to the finish line and we need every ounce of pressure to get us over it.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

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GOP Senator Scott Brown will support DADT repeal

This is great news, and it helps shift momentum our way. Specifically, it puts more pressure on other GOP moderates like Snowe and Collins, and also on Dem conservatives. What remains to be seen is whether Brown supports cloture on the defense bill itself (there are various cloture votes). He could support cloture on DADT but not support it on the bill, thus taking DADT down anyway. So more details need to come out. But still, this is good news.

“I have been in the military for 31 years and counting, and have served as a subordinate and as an officer. As a legislator, I have spent a significant amount of time on military issues. During my time of service, I have visited our injured troops at Walter Reed and have attended funerals of our fallen heroes. When a soldier answers the call to serve, and risks life or limb, it has never mattered to me whether they are gay or straight. My only concern has been whether their service and sacrifice is with pride and honor.

“I pledged to keep an open mind about the present policy on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Having reviewed the Pentagon report, having spoken to active and retired military service members, and having discussed the matter privately with Defense Secretary Gates and others, I accept the findings of the report and support repeal based on the Secretary’s recommendations that repeal will be implemented only when the battle effectiveness of the forces is assured and proper preparations have been completed.”




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A challenge for Senator Collins on DADT: Side with equality or cave to GOP leadership (again)

Yesterday, we saw this via HuffPostHill:

COLLINS STILL MAKING ZERO SENSE ON DADT – Susan Collins, who supports repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, is continuing to concoct reasons to vote against it. The Wall Street Journal, new home of Patrick O’Conner, reported that she would oppose cloture if she didn’t get some debate or amendments or some such. Not so, her office tells Jason Linkins: “Senator Collins has not said she would oppose cloture if time is not allowed for debate. In fact, she has said she supports repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and she intends to support cloture on the Defense Authorization bill if the Majority Leader allows for a full and fair debate.” Um, that’s the same thing.

Here’s the full excerpt from Danny Yadron and Patrick O’Connor at the WSJ:

The House passed a measure to repeal the policy this spring, but Senate Republicans in September blocked a defense spending bill that included a repeal.

It’s unclear if any of that will change after today’s announcement. Sen. Susan Collins, a centrist Republican from Maine who says she wants the ban repealed, still plans to vote against the repeal if there is not more time for debate, her spokesman said Monday.

Yep. Same thing. Makes no sense.

We know why. Collins isn’t making sense because of this:

Senate Republicans intend to block action on virtually all Democratic-backed legislation unrelated to tax cuts and government spending in the current postelection session of Congress, officials said Tuesday, adding that the leadership has quietly collected signatures on a letter pledging to carry out the strategy.

If carried out, it would doom Democratic-backed attempts to end the Pentagon’s practice of discharging openly gay members of the military service and give legal status to young illegal immigrants who join the military or attend college.

Orders have come down from Mitch McConnell. Has Susan Collins signed the letter? We need to know.

On DADT, Collins is key. She voted for the DADT language in the Senate Armed Services Committe last May. She’s considered something of a pro-LGBT champion, on paper anyway. HRC’s PAC has contributed ,000 to Collins. Given that record, if Collins won’t vote to end the filibuster, we can’t expect any other GOPers to do it.

In September, Collins chose the bogus argument of process over equality and voted with her GOP colleagues to filibuster the Defense Authorization bill. She basically said that not getting her way on amendments was the same as getting kicked out of the military for being gay. Ridiculous. But, the GOP leader told her how to vote and she did.

Now, we’re faced with the same question of whether Collins votes for equality or caves to Mitch McConnell. He’s the puppet-master. And, let’s face it, Collins rarely stands on principle. She usually does what McConnell wants. She’ll hide behind the bogus excuse that the process isn’t fair. But, notice, she won’t define for anyone what a “fair debate” is.

Collins knows this is the last shot for legislative repeal to move forward. She knows her newly empowered GOP colleagues won’t move repeal in the next Congress. If Collins votes to block movement on the Defense bill, the failure to pass the DADT language rests on her shoulders, too.




AMERICAblog Gay

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