DADT Repeal One Year Later

Posted by Victoria Martin
West Chester University, Class of 2015

One year ago, the United States repealed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, putting an end to years of silence among lesbian, gay, and bisexual soldiers who have served, and continue to serve our nation.

The history of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell began with the administration of former President Bill Clinton, who signed the policy into law in October of 1993. Before the passage of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell there was an explicit ban on homosexual soldiers serving in the military in any capacity. The policy allowed lesbian, gay, and bisexual soldiers to serve in the military, provided they did not disclose their sexuality or engage in any “homosexual activities” while in the service. The policy did not forbid heterosexual service members from openly disclosing their relationships, or engaging in romantic and sexual activity. Additionally, the policy was to forbid inquires into the sexual orientation of a service member. However, in the fifteen years the policy was in effect, an estimated 13,650 soldiers were discharged after being “outed” in some capacity. Soldiers discharged due to sexual orientation were in some cases subject to receiving less than honorable discharges, despite their service records, and were not allowed to reenlist.

President Barack Obama said that he was favor of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell while campaigning for President in 2008, and confirmed that he would work to end the ban during the 2010 State of the Union Address. This position was backed up by several government and military officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Opponents of allowing lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members serve openly claimed that morale would be lowered, cohesion would be threatened, and the military would see a mass exodus of heterosexual service members. A statement from a group of 1,167 retired admirals and generals claimed that, “Repeal… would undermine recruiting and retention, impact leadership at all levels, have adverse effects on the willingness of parents who lend their sons and daughters to military service, and eventually break the All-Volunteer Force.”

President Barack Obama signed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in December of 2010, and after the military underwent training programs in preparation, the act was officially repealed on September 20, 2011 . Contrary to the beliefs of opponents of the repeal, open service has reportedly been a non-issue. A study released by the Palm Center, conducted by both military and private civilians, found that there had been no negative impact upon the military upon allowing lesbian, gay, and bisexual soldiers to serve openly. In fact, retention of personnel, readiness, and cohesion were found to be entirely unchanged, and there was no net change found in service member morale. Service members reported that they felt allowing their fellow soldiers to serve openly had not affected the way the military operated in any capacity. The Palm Center study concluded that the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has had very little impact in the daily activities of the military, apart from increased trust and openness among soldiers.

While the military had made great strides in the rights of lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members in the past year, there is still much progress to be made. Under the Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex spouses of service members are not entitled to full military benefits. Service members discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell have been unable to receive compensation from the government for benefits they would have been entitled to had they not been discharged, or had they received an honorable discharge.

Trans citizens are currently unable to serve in the military. The military treats identifying as trans* as a mental illness, and thus denies admission into the armed forces to those who are not cisgender. Policy also forbids enlistment by anyone who has undergone surgery on the genitalia, thus barring post-operative trans* individuals from serving. “Cross-dressing” is considered grounds for denying enlistment, or discharge. Recently, veteran Ashley Ackley, whom previously identified as John Ackley while serving in the National Guard, petitioned to be reenlisted. Ackley served in the military for six years, and her service included a tour in Iraq. Ackley sought the help of several military recruiters, before she was definitively denied readmission, under the policy on mental illness and gender reassignment surgery. Ackley is currently a member of the Inactive Reserve, though in an interview with CNN, she expressed the opinion that it would be unlikely for her to be called into service from the reserve.

The consequences of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell have proven to be positive for both service members, and the military at large. The first same-sex marriage of a service member was held on midnight of September 19, 2011, by Navy Lt. Gary Ross and his husband, a civilian. Military chaplains are allowed to officiate same-sex marriages, in states which they may be held. Service members discharged under the policy have been able to reenlist, and return to their jobs serving their country. Soldiers no longer need to live in fear of being discharged simply for being who they are. While great progress has been made in a single year, the nation must continue to work forward to a military where citizens of all sexual orientations and gender identities can serve their country openly.

Further Resources:

The Palm Center: One Year Out

Ashley Ackles interview with CNN

Opinion: Looking up at the Stars

Tomorrow, Zach Wahls, a young icon for LGBT equality, will address the Democratic National Convention. It’s a great moment for the LGBT rights movement to have the child of a same-gender parent home to address a national political convention.

However, I pause at the channels that promoted his rise to stardom.

Since I began organizing in this movement, I’ve seen a cult of personality form around young LGBT heroes. Like clockwork, once a year, adult leaders seem to let catapult one youth into national stardom. I am humbled that some of these youth are friends of mine, but I want to dig deeper at the way the LGBT movement works to embrace individual leaders. I believe that in the best contexts, celebrities can provide inspiration, but at its lowest, display shallowness. Too often today, we are presented with individual icons talking about themselves – rarely with leaders representing movements of people.

In 2010, we welcomed Katie Miller to the stage. She boldly resigned from the military at West Point just before DADT was repealed. She became a fixture on national news programs speaking out as a young person against discrimination in the armed forces. Since then, she has articulated a message of inclusion she shares at events across the county.

In 2011, we celebrated Daniel Hernandez. While he asserts that he was not an LGBT activist, he happened to be gay and a student intern with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at the time she and others were attacked. His quick support of the congresswoman proved to be a great help to her survival – and Daniel has since been hailed as a hero across the United States and accepted numerous honors.

This year we come to Zach Wahls, who rose to fame with his passionate testimony defending marriage equality on the Iowa House floor. He has written a book about growing up in a same-gender parent household and spoken at many large forums. Moreover, Wahls has embraced activism in opposition to the boy scouts’ ban on gay members.

Generally, these young icons come from privileged backgrounds, or come to fame because they are close to channels of political power. We can only ponder if they would all be regulars on CNN if Katie had not come from a prominent military background, if Zach was not as charismatic, or even, if Daniel worked for a conservative congresswoman. Would even their stories be heard? We can be excited and sure they have bright futures ahead in politics and leadership.

Looking at the stars of the LGBT community, what is a young, transgender youth of color supposed to look up and see? We can only hope one day for a reflection.

The pattern of LGBT youth heroes seems to send the message that primarily white and privileged youth are the ones who deserve to be promoted to the national stage, literally. I write this intentionally as a white, gay student, in solidarity with all the stories buried and forgotten.

The Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s grappled tremendously with this issue. Leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Roy Wilkins would regularly draw thousands of people to hear them speak. Mostly they were male and successful community leaders.

Ella Baker, a proponent of forming the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the major student-run arm of the civil rights movement, believed that a community should lead together, instead of being the followers of a few charming individuals.

In a biography of Ella, former SNCC participant Joanne Grant writes that she “believed strongly in the importance of organizing people to formulate their own questions, to define their own problems, and to find their own solutions…she held firmly to the concept of group-centered leadership rather than a leadership-centered group.”

I am concerned that spending so much time honoring celebrities over humbling ourselves to local advocacy can further LGBT community stratification. At least, it would be nice for us to push the larger LGBT movement to give the spotlight more to ordinary folks we can believe in too.

In the end, civil rights movements have seen their greatest successes when normal, everyday people banded together to realize their power. It wasn’t by carrying anyone else’s autograph – but by becoming our own heroes.

Zach Wahls clearly deserves this speaking engagement. And I will definitely watch and cheer him on. But in my mind, I’ll be waiting for the day a national political convention invites a queer youth to the stage to tell her story of fighting for the lives of others – and not just commentating on it with a few calculated talking points from an agent.

How long should I hold my breath?

This opinion post was written by Jason Landau Goodman, a student at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and can be reached at

One Million Moms calls for boycott of NBC sitcom












Even moms can be bullies, as it turns out.

Activist group and ever-present pain in the rear One Million Moms has publicly expressed its disappointment in major networks’ choice of gay-friendly programming, this time standing against NBC’s brand-new comedy sitcom.

“The New Normal,” which features two monogamous gay men trying to push past the hurdles of dealing with a surrogate, has set the group ablaze with loaded, choice words about “morals” and “marriage.”

“NBC is using public airwaves to continue to subject families to the decay of morals and values, and the sanctity of marriage in attempting to redefine marriage,” the organization said in a statement. “NBC’s ‘The New Normal’ is attempting to desensitize America and our children. It is the opposite of how families are designed and created.”

One Million Moms has taken strong stances in the past against JCPenney’s pseudo-controversial ad campaign featuring Ellen DeGeneres as well as NBC’s previous prime-time newbie “The Playboy Club,” which although the group cites their efforts as the reason for advertisers pulling on the show, we think it might be more likely that the show just wasn’t very good. (See: “Work It.”)

From this perspective, a television show featuring stable and responsible parents-to-be fostering a healthy relationship with a surrogate doesn’t sound like such a bad thing. But then again, what do we know about morals?

This post was written by Brandon Baker, a junior journalism student at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Truvada approved by FDA for HIV prevention

It’s no cure, but we’ll take it.

Truvada, a prescription antiretroviral drug approved in 2004 to suppress the progress of HIV in infected men and women, was approved on Monday by the Food and Drug Administration for use in those not infected by the disease. LGBTQ test study individuals were found to be 42% less likely to contract the disease when used in conjunction with other safe-sex practices, making it a significant — but not conclusive — victory in the on-going battle against HIV.

“Practicing safer sex and good health practices must be part of the treatment,” said Dr. Debra Birnkrandt, director of the Division of Antiviral Products, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the FDA. “We will be putting a box warning to let those using Truvada know that it is part of the therapy with combination of safer sex practices, and that doing this, will reduce the risk of the development of AIDS/HIV.”

The use of Truvada has additionally been shown to reduce the risk of becoming infected by 75% in heterosexual partners, making the drug stand out as particularly monumental as 50,000 new cases of HIV are reported each year.

Time will tell how effective the drug will be as a preventative tool, particularly as health insurance companies remain hesitant to cover pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) preventative drugs akin to the newly-approved Truvada.

More on the story.

Anderson Cooper officially steps out of the closet

Anderson Cooper, the prestigious, long-time CNN talk show host who has faced gay speculation for years, has finally admitted to the general public that he is in fact gay.

“I’m gay, always have been, always will be,” Cooper said. “I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, [or] proud.”

Cooper has led a notoriously private life as a public figure, failing to disclose political, religious, or sexual preferences in the past in an effort to keep an objective image as a leading figure in mainstream journalism. Recent tragedies, however, in combination with a public perception that Cooper had been “ashamed,” led the reporter to finally open up about his sexual preference.

“There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand,” he said.

Regardless of the reason, we couldn’t be happier that Silver Fox has finally joined the growing ranks of openly-gay celebrities.

Congress launches new Anti-Bullying Caucus

Congressional leaders launched the historic Anti-Bullying Caucus Thursday afternoon, a landmark achievement as efforts heat up to pass national anti-bullying legislation.

The caucus, led by Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), hosts a largely bi-partisan membership of 41 congressional representatives, some of whom spoke at a press conference Thursday.

“We need to let [bullies] know that bullying – in any way, shape, or form, is wrong,” Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.) said. “Let’s reverse this disturbing trend in our schools.”

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) recalled a personal story of a 21-year-old military family member who suffered from hazing, committing suicide shortly after being subjected to three hours of being taunted to do push-ups while wearing body armor.

“To stop military hazing we must first stop bullying itself – what happens on the battleground often begins on the playground,” she said. “Bullying is not just a harmless rite of passage for kids; this is a problem we can actually fix.”

Entering the room late in flip-flops, Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) remarked on the profound affect the personal stories of many have had on her as a parent and legislator.

“As a mom, it just tears at your soul…” Sanchez said, teary-eyed. “These aren’t just statistics; they’re children.”

The caucus members were joined by activist organizations from across the country Thursday, with strong presences from the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), The Trevor Project, the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition and even ever-crucial third parties like Facebook. The caucus’ press conference and panel discussions were followed by a screening of Lee Hirsch’s “Bully,” a striking documentary on the realities of bullying in the United States’ school system. The parents of one of the film’s documented suicide victims spoke briefly but with notable conviction at the conference.

“Now is the time; we have this opportunity, and if we don’t take it, how many more parents are going to lose their children?” Tina Long said. “We’re tired of excuses.”

Philadelphia and Pittsburgh prepare vigils for gunned-down Texas lesbians

The Philadelphia and Pittsburgh communities are readying their LGBT armies for two vigils intended to honor the memory of a lesbian couple shot in Texas last week.

The pair had reportedly been seen together in a South Texas park when they suffered bullet wounds to the head, proving to be a fatal wound for Mollie Olgan, and leaving her partner, Mary Chapa, in critical condition. Police have been unable to determine any suspects since the shooting.

The two candlelight vigils will honor their memory and aim to spread a grander message of tolerance, compassion and love. Check below for specific times for the events.

Pittsburgh: Sunday, July 1 from 7 – 8 p.m., located at Northside Park (Brighton Road and Ridge Avenue – next to CCAC)

Philadelphia: Friday, June 29 from 7:30 – 9 p.m., located at LOVE Park, 1599 John F. Kennedy Blvd.

An additional event will be held in Washington D.C. on Friday at DuPont Circle, starting promptly at 6 p.m. A full list of vigils to be held can be found online with Get Equal Texas here.

ENDA hearing aims to push forward legislation

This past Tuesday, the Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions met in a hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a piece of currently proposed labor non-discrimination legislation. ENDA, if passed, would add factors of actual or perceived gender identity or sexual orientations to federal protections against workplace discrimination, which currently includes race, color, religion, sex and national origin, as detailed in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The five witnesses who testified before the Senate in the hearing included Kylar Broadus, an attorney and founder of Trans People of Color Coalition in Missouri, who made history as the first-ever trans person to testify before the US Senate. Broadus focused his testimony on the numerous instances of transphobia in his professional career which have caused severe consequences, including long periods of unemployment and post-traumatic stress. Also testifying was a social scientist and sexual orientation policy specialist at UCLA’s Williams Institute, a high-ranking executive of General Mills, and two lawyers specializing in First Amendment issues and labor policy.

“It is long past time to eliminate bigotry in the workplace, and to ensure equal opportunity for all Americans,” Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said in his opening statement.

Emphasizing and encouraging a speedy passage of ENDA through the Senate, Harkin, along with the original sponsor of ENDA, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), emphasized through their statements and questions the major points of the bill: that despite dissenters’ arguments, the bill would not cause “a flood of lawsuits,”would extend equal protections as already exist for other groups, would increase businesses’ profitability and would include exemptions for religious groups.

The exemptions for religious groups proved to be the most contentious issue brought to light in the hearing. Craig Parshal, a witness and First Amendment lawyer with the National Religious Broadcasters Association, repeatedly stated his organization’s position that ENDA would present a serious breach of the first amendment of the Constitution. Citing parts of the bill’s sixth section, Parshal contended that the exemption procedures, modeled on those laid out in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, were excessively ambiguous.

In rebuttal, Samuel Bagenstos, a professor of law at the University of Michigan, made clear to the Senate committee that the language of the bill was clear, and that the procedures it called for had already demonstrated effectiveness in practice. In fact, ENDA’s exemptions for religious groups are so broad, Dr. Bagenstos testified, that the bill’s exemption language has been severely criticized by groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union. Sen Harkin, following Dr. Bagenstos, also reminded the committee of similar First Amendment issues brought by religious groups in debates over racial and women’s equality, which have been thoroughly accepted as constitutional.

ENDA has had a troubled history. Currently, while sixteen states and 186 cities and counties (including the District of Columbia) have passed workplace equality policies for sexual orientation and gender identity, the policies have consistently lacked support as federal legislation. ENDA, in its current form, has been introduced in every Congress since 2007, and similar legislation providing protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation has been introduced consistently for almost four decades without passage. Additionally, between 2000 and 2008, the Bush administration issued a pre-emptive veto threat applying to all LGBT equality legislation. This year, along with Sen. Merkley’s Senate ENDA bill S 811, Rep Barney Frank (D-Mass) has re-introduced ENDA to the House of Representatives as HR 1397.

This post was written by Robin Banerji, a student at Haverford College and a member of the PSEC Coordinating Committee.

Miss Pennsylvania transphobic?

If every supermodel pageant contestant shouts for “world peace,” that sure isn’t evident based on the example set by the reigning Miss Pennsylvania.

Sheena Monnin, the 27-year-old representative of Pennsylvania in the Miss USA Pageant, has publicly attacked the Miss Universe Organization following her recent resignation as Miss Pennsylvania. Monnin called the pageant and its organizers “fraudulent” and criticized the organization’s morality for supporting transgender contestants.

Reads an email sent by Monnin to the organization Monday morning:

“Randy, I am officially and irrevocably resigning the title of Miss Pennsylvania USA 2012. I refuse to be part of a pageant system that has so far and so completely removed itself from its foundational principles as to allow and support natural born males to compete in it… This goes against every moral fiber of my being.”

Monnin has since changed her original claims cited in the email of the organization being immoral by instead zooming-in on new allegations that the pageant was rigged and had already chosen five finalists before the competition had even begun.

While we don’t doubt there are some sketchy behind-the-scenes practices in pageants, it seems fair to say the contest’s organizers were probably better judges of character than Ms. Monnin, considering their list so wisely laid absent of the Pennsylvania sore loser beauty queen.

More on the story.

This post was written by Brandon Baker, PSEC director of communications and student at Temple University. Brandon can be reached at

Judge sentences Dharun Ravi to 30 days in prison













Chalk up one more round of fuel to the LGBTQ community’s fire when it comes to the oh-so-public Tyler Clementi case.

Judge Glen Berman on Monday sentenced Dharun Ravi to spend a probationary 30 days in prison after relaying convictions on all 15 charges. The result has LGBTQ youth rallying their pitchforks and torches even higher in emerging outrage of the trial’s outcome.

“I was outraged. I felt he definitely needed more than 30 days,” said Robert Romas, a student at Carver High School of Engineering. “Thirty days? That’s someone’s life!”

Ravi’s most significant conviction, the much sought-after hate crime charge of bias intimidation, allowed the judge to deliver anywhere between 30 days and 10 years in prison.

Judge Berman, who insists that Ravi’s actions were “insensitive” but not hateful, used the example of New Jersey’s broad legal definition of its bias intimidation laws as an additional reason for the controversial decision.

The New Jersey-based activist organization Garden State Equality issued this statement in response to the judge’s decision:

“Dharun Ravi wasn’t convicted of a bias crime unfairly. Dharun Ravi was convicted of a bias crime because his own words broadcast anti-gay animus to Tyler Clementi and the world.”

In addition to serving a likely-to-be-appealed 30 days in prison, Ravi will also be required to commit to community service involving the aid of those living what the judge called “alternative lifestyles.”

Upon reading the verdict, Ravi, whose lawyer claims he has been “demonized by the gay community,” refused to apologize to the Clementi family when prompted by the judge.

“When politicians give public apologies, to me, it always sounds so insincere and false,” he said. “No matter what I say, people will take it that way.”

You’ve got that right.