Big news on the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal front, and none of it good. The NYT reported in Friday morning’s paper that the Pentagon memo that leaked yesterday from the Chairman of the Joint Chief’s office was not just some “legal memo,” as was first reported. It was a draft proposal for the position the Joint Chiefs should take with regards to the President’s promise to repeal DADT. And the proposal was: “not now.”
The second big thing we learned in the NYT piece was that the Pentagon is considering whether to segregate, “separate but equal” style, gay troops, giving them separate showers and barracks, among other things. From the NYT:
Despite the uncertainty of timing, another military official said that the Department of Defense was beginning to look at the practical implications of a repeal — for example, whether it would be necessary to change shower facilities and locker rooms because of privacy concerns, whether to ban public displays of affection on military bases and what to do about troops who are stationed or make port calls in nations that outlaw homosexuality.
It’s disturbing that the Pentagon is even talking about this, first of all because gays and lesbians are already in the Pentagon’s showers and barracks. So this is a non-issue. The fact that the Pentagon doesn’t realize this is simply bizarre. Second, why are we still talking about showers – what is this, 1993? And third, Barack Obama’s Pentagon is actually discussing whether an African-American president should endorse the “separate but equal” segregation of a minority? Seriously?
Even more troubling, this was not the first time that President Obama’s Pentagon has brought up the idea of creating “separate but equal” gay solders in the US military. The Secretary of the Army mentioned the “separate but equal” option as well a few months back:
Selling the idea to Congress, which has the final say, could depend on exactly what the administration tries to do in terms of the timing of repeal and how it is applied, McHugh said.
It’s possible, for example, that homosexuals could be allowed into some occupations or units but barred from others, McHugh said, stressing that he was not aware of any such plans but only discussing how the issue might play out.
Well, we’re aware now.
The Times article also references a secret gay meeting that took place this week to discuss the repeal of DADT. We’ve spoken to people who attended that meeting, and here’s what we know.
The meeting took place this past Wednesday in Washington, DC. Approximately 20 people were in attendance, including representatives from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, the Palm Center, the Human Rights Campaign, Servicemembers United, and the Center for American Progress. No one from the administration attended the meeting, and the meeting was not called by the groups themselves, but rather a third party.
In contrast to past statements from gay groups and administration officials that “there is a plan” with regards to the President’s gay rights promises, including DADT, the secret meeting (and the Times article) both made clear that there still is no plan at all. Both the meeting and the Times article confirm that the White House has not even decided if it will push for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, let alone what exactly it will push for for, if anything (as noted in the Times article, the Pentagon is even considering whether a “separate but equal” policy should be adopted). The hope is that the White House will come to a decision and announce what, if anything, it is going to do about moving forward on the repeal of DADT sometime in the next month or two. But the groups have no idea what the White House is going to decide, or when it will decide, and therefore cannot and will not endorse an all-out campaign to support the repeal of DADT until the White House makes up its mind.
Last May, Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese told the NYT that there was in fact a plan:
The White House, aware of the discontent, invited leaders of some prominent gay rights organizations to meet Monday with top officials, including Jim Messina, Mr. Obama’s deputy chief of staff, to plot legislative strategy on the hate crimes bill as well as “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Among those attending was Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, who said afterward that while the gay rights agenda might not be “unfolding exactly as we thought,” he was pleased.
“They have a vision,” Mr. Solmonese said. “They have a plan.”
We now know that this was untrue, or at best, the plan was trashed.
It was clear to everyone in the gay meeting, I’m told, that we can’t win this without the President’s leadership. But there is no indication of what if anything the President will do. The attendees split generally into two camps. One side wanting to wait and see what the President does, versus the other side feeling we can’t afford to wait because it’s not clear the President will ever lead.
As for my take on this news, we have been told repeatedly that there was a plan. I won’t reveal the details of my recent private conversation with openly gay head of the Office of Personnel Management, John Berry, but suffice it to say that the NYT and the details of the private meeting make clear that what Berry told me at Christmas was a lie.
Why are our groups waiting for the White House to tell them whether the President is going to keep his campaign promise, and whether the President is going to embrace the reviled “separate but equal” segregation option, before acting? Why are our groups not sitting at the table with the White House hammering out the policy, rather than sitting back and crossing their fingers, unable to act, until the White House deigns to let us know what they plan on doing with our civil rights? Why does it feel like health care reform all over again, waiting until the last minute and then hoping everything works out, while the King Solomons at the White House discuss how to cut the baby in half?
No other than openly gay Congressman Barney Frank explained last year how important it was to have an all lobbying campaign before we even think of bringing up DADT repeal:
“I believe we should and will do ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ next year,” said Frank, a co-chairman of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Equality Caucus. “We haven’t done the preliminary work, the preparatory work. It would be a mistake to bring it up without a lot of lobbying and a lot of conversation.”
Has there been lobbying? Sure. The same amount as last year when Barney said it wasn’t nearly enough.
Why does it increasingly feel as if we are dealing with George Bush’s White House and not a Democrat who promised to be our “fierce advocate”?