Petty officer August Provost was just 29 years old and had just started his Navy career, when his body was found, shot and burned in a shed on southern California's Camp Pendleton in June 2009.
Provost's partner, Kaether Cordero, said Provost was openly gay but kept his private life quiet for the most part. "People who he was friends with, I knew that they knew," Cordero said from Houston. "He didn't care that they knew. He trusted them."
Provost had recently complained to family members about a person who was harassing him, so they advised him to tell his supervisor, said his sister, Akalia Provost of Houston. --San Diego Union Tribune
This is what people do when a co-worker harasses them, right? But this is not an option for LGB servicemembers. They know anything that draws attention to their personal life, or relationships with other troops has the very real potential to end their career.
There was no one August could turn to.
To discuss his difficulties is tantamount to "telling," under the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Provost knew such a conversation could well solicit charges from his harasser that he was gay, ultimately leading to his expulsion.
LGB service members don't join to make big social policy statements. They join for the same reasons everyone else does: they want access to a steady income, a good education, the opportunity to learn job skills, and to serve a country they love. August's dreams for a career, and education would be spiked forever.
He chose to ride it out, and that choice may be what cost him his life. We may never know the circumstances behind August Provost's death. A fellow sailor was arrested, held but killed himself in custody. There were reports of discord between the two, it is unclear if this was the man his family was referencing as his harasser. What IS clear is Provost was a man in trouble, and a system was in place to keep him silent.
Provost's is one under-reported story of DADT, another is this:
"Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" Disproportionately Affecting Black Women
"Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" has been used to kick Black women out of the military at a much higher rate than other groups. In fact, Black women are discharged under "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" at three times the rate that they serve in the military. Although Black women make up less than one percent of servicemembers, they comprise 3.3% of those discharged under the policy.
Again, a policy that demands silence, serves to protect the abuser, not the LGB soldier. Anecdotal reports have shown lesbians, and even straight women are made more vulnerable to sexual harassment by DADT. Predatory comrades, who find their advances unwelcome may respond with the typical childish taunt of "oh, she's a lesbian." Such rumors can have a lifetime of consequences.
To say nothing about the fact we should be unsurprised a policy that targets a group with animus, somehow does it's "best work" when traits that inspire animus are particularly well concentrated in one target.
Fortunately, Congress has heard the call President Obama made in his State of the Union address, and is stepping up to end this policy. Senate Armed Services committee member Sen. Mark Udall swung by Daily Kosyesterday to explain the new bill to repeal "don't ask, don't tell." (And it's good.)
Democrats yesterday staged a press conference to introduce the bill to the American public. You can see a video of the presser here. And it too, is good.
The language is strong and unequivocal, like this from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand:
This policy is one of the most corrosive, destructive policies to strength of our armed services, to military readiness, to our national security and to the moral of our troops.
The stagecraft behind the DADT repeal roll out has been phenomenal thus far. From Adm. Mullen's testimony, to this press conference, to the messaging. And repeal supporters are winning, by every measure. By soundbites and headlines, by public polling, by clear, reality-based rational argument, even the GOP has thus far appeared to show little inclination for serious opposition. They would have to cross party leader Dick Cheney to do so, who seems to have resigned himself to repeal as well.
But as we saw on healthcare reform, it doesn't matter if your cause is righteous, it doesn't matter if the public is with you, all that matters is you have the votes. Do we? It's not clear.
Senate Armed Services Chair Carl Levin as said he's afraid there aren't the votes in Congress for repeal to pass. He told Metro Weekly:
"My concern would be that the vote on ending 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' gets defeated.''
When asked if that meant the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman had concerns that such a vote would be defeated this year, Levin's response was blunt:
''Yeah, darn right I do.''
It's unclear if he's talking about on the Armed Services Committee to allow repeal into the military spending budget, as Sen. Udall said yesterday was the plan, or if he's talking about on the floor.
Either way, it's unacceptable.
But I can see his point, when I looked more closely a the Senate Armed Services committee. Off the top of my head, there are only 5 solid YES votes that I know of (and I do not presume to know all). And there are at least, 4 solid NOs. If you do the math and presume the usual GOP/Dem split, it's not a slam dunk: it's 15 YES votes to 12 NOs.
But look at the make up of the committee, shall we? (Names lead to contact information for each Senator. FYI, I've noticed Chair Levin's email form accepts out of state addresses, so go ahead and tell him you want repeal included in the spending budget. In fact, please do so.)
Carl Levin, Michigan, Chairman
Robert Byrd,West Virginia
Jack Reed, Rhode Island
Daniel Akaka, Hawaii
Bill Nelson, Florida
Ben Nelson, Nebraska
Evan Bayh, Indiana
Jim Webb, Virginia
Claire McCaskill, Missouri
Kay Hagan, North Carolina
Mark Begich, Alaska
Roland Burris, Illinois
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico
I look at some of those Democrats and I hear, "Danger, Will Robinson, danger!" I see more than few names that have been the scourge of the Democratic agenda over the last year. There are specific concerns about Nelsons, Webb and Byrd that suggest they will not vote to include repeal in the budget. As is so often the case, only the Democrats themselves can stop progress, and there's a good chance they will. The recent addition of Sen. Bingaman is welcome, he is a cosponsor of the amendment.
John McCain, Arizona, Ranking Member
James Inhofe, Oklahoma
Jeff Sessions, Alabama
Saxby Chambliss, Georgia
Lindsey Graham, South Carolina
John Thune,South Dakota
Roger Wicker, Mississippi
George LeMieux, Florida
Richard Burr, North Carolina
Susan Collins, Maine
Scott Brown, Massachusetts
GOP has shown very little inclination to cross the party line if it means handing President Obama a campaign promise victory. I find it hard to imagine after the stimulus vote, and health care battles, any of them will find it in them to vote for the gays. But that said, the addition of Sen. Scott Brown to the committee in the last few days, does make the possibility of a GOP more likely. It's possible the two east coast Republicans will cover for each other.
If you know your Senator is opposed, call anyway. It's important they hear from constituents that tell them, "You are not reflecting my views. You are not representing ME in Congress." Please, let them know they are failing you. Relish the opportunity to invade their echo chamber with a new tune.
Call anyway, even if your rep's onboard. Just say, "Good job! I'm proud of you." They get a lot of nasty calls I'm sure, it's human nature to only speak up to complain. Give them an "atta-boy!" It's the antidote to apathy Dems so often show toward progressive causes. Maybe they don't know how much we really want this. Strengthen their resolve.
Again, the names above will lead you directly to the Armed Service Committee member's contact pages. Other Senators can be contacted through Servicemember's Legal Defense Network's Senatorial email tool, which is here. Another list of all Senators can be found here.House reps can be found here.
SLDN includes a sample script on their site. Here is another that squares with the points Sen. Udall presented yesterday:
Hello, my name is (first name) and I’m calling from (city/town).
I’m calling to urge the Senator to support legislation to end "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" and vote for a full repeal this year.
In a time our country is waging two wars, there is no cause for discharging qualified people, like arab translators and fighter pilots who simply want to serve their country. Don't ask, don't tell undermines our national security, and it needs to stop.
Firing qualified service members simply because they’re gay needs to stop in 2010. Thank you.
Along with this tip:
**Note: If you live in Washington, D.C., please call Sen. Carl Levin and tell him to include DADT repeal in the defense authorization bill.
As I noted above, Levin's email form from his Senate site accepts out of state of Michigan addresses.
The House is a bit rosier picture fortunately. Lead sponsor, Iraqi war veteran Patrick Murphy, (PA) tells DC Agenda he's confident Congress can, and will, overturn DADT in 2010:
Murphy said the upcoming defense authorization bill could be a vehicle for passing repeal legislation. He noted that passage as part of defense authorization would give the Pentagon time to complete the study currently underway on the law.
"We usually don’t pass that into law until October of that year," Murphy said. "October is about seven months away. That’s plenty of time for the folks to get ready to just put out to the troops that you need to respect not just one another’s race, one another creed, but also one another’s sexual orientation."
In addition to the 189 co-sponsors he has the commitment from "two dozen" others. This puts it within striking distance of the 218 threshold. Let's shore him up. The list of sponsors is here, see if yours is there, and if not call them up and ask why the heck not?
Healthcare reform will be done very soon. It's time to put DADT repeal front and center on the radar. The Servicemember's Legal Defense Network and other gay advocacy groups are on board with a very reasonable compromise, that will simultaneously allow a repeal vote this year and accommodate the Pentagon's request for study time. It needn't be an either or choice. We can arm Democrats with not one, but two historic victories for November 2010 that will remind voters why they put Democrats in charge in 2006 and 2008.
With increasing concerns that Democrats may even lose control of a congressional house, the prospect of an actual DADT repeal are dwindling. If indeed, they do lose the House or the Senate, it could be a decade before the stars align again allowing a full repeal. GOP will never allow it out of committee. Even weakened majorities could make the vote harder, or spook the Democrats enough to abandon the idea. Repeal this year may be Lt. Dan Choi's only chance to continue serving our country.
The Lt. sent out this message, via the Courage Campaign yesterday:
"I need your help right now. I need you to pick up the phone and make a quick call to your Senators.
This morning, Sen. Joe Lieberman made history, introducing legislation to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" -- the first bill ever introduced in the U.S. Senate to end this discriminatory policy. Sen. Carl Levin, the powerful Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand joined Sen. Lieberman in introducing this landmark legislation.
Sen. Lieberman's "Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2010" closely mirrors a similar bill in the House of Representatives, championed by Rep. Patrick Murphy, that would repeal the law that prevents gay Americans from serving openly in the military.
Now we need to help Sen. Lieberman and Sen. Levin get the votes in the Senate that will repeal DADT once and for all.
My job -- my life -- is on the line. And so are the lives of more than 65,000 gay men and women currently serving in our nation's military. That's why I need your help. And it's why the Courage Campaign is teaming up with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and Knights Out to get this message to you."
Moratorium isn't good enough. Non-enforcement isn't good enough. Our LGBT troops deserve to serve with respect, let's show our gratitude for their service by coming to their aid. Please take a moment to give your congresscritter a call today. You can even give them an earful about healthcare reform while you've got them on the line. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, right? Yes, we can!
UPDATE 1: Rep. Patrick Murphy (PA), lead House Sponsor of the DADT Repeal legislation held a press conference today underscoring his heartfelt belief that the time is now to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
He enunciates his commitment and his heartfelt belief that DADT WILL be repealed in 2010 and why: the President is with us, the public is with us, the top military leaders are with us, the time is now. He also clearly demonstrates why he is the man with the passion, the charisma and, as an Iraq War veteran, the military credentials to lead this battle. Props to Representative and Captain Patrick Murphy. BTW, his ActBlue account can be found here.
Update 2: Rachel Maddow provides her usual righteous smackdown on the subject of GOP push back on DADT, pwning John McCain's ever changing positions, as the ground changes beneath him. She also delivers a well-needed fact check that the policy does, indeed "ask." H/T to liberaldemdave for alerting me.
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