Monday, April 6, 2009

1000 Reasons

On November 30, 2007, when 28 flag officers (generals and admirals) publicly announced their support for repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ at a press conference we put on as part of SU’s ’12,000 Flags for 12,000 Patriots’ event on the National Mall, I knew it was only a matter of time before the One-Woman Side Show of Livonia (aka The “Center” for “Military” “Readiness,” aka Elaine Donnelly) rolled out her own list of 28 flag officers who preferred a return to the stone age… but that list never appeared. Then, when it was announced by the Associated Press some time later that this list of flag officers supporting repeal of DADT was up to over 100, I thought surely this would get Ms. Donnelly all up in a tizzy and prompt her to roll out her own list of 25-100 matching voices… but it didn’t happen then either.

I have to admit that I’ve been quite perplexed for some time about why our one-woman opposition hasn’t come forward with such an obvious and simple response to this remarkable statement in our favor by this list of distinguished, high-ranking military officers. I thought, surely with all of the homophobes and reactionaries out there she could at least get a few dozen to sign a statement supporting her and her “Center’s” (i.e., upstairs spare room’s) positions. Her positions, after all, do seem to be quite common amongst the reactionary, ultra-conservative crowd that would probably prefer a less effective military if it meant we could keep out the women and the racial minorities and the gays and take this hallowed $500 billion per year institution back to being an extension of a 1930s Alabama Moose Lodge. But, such a response never materialized… until now.

Alas, Ms. Donnelly has finally dropped her own bombshell, far out-doing our side for once. Last week, she released the list she’s been building up over the past year and a half – a list of flag officers signing onto a statement that includes all of the sound bytes one would expect coming out of Ms. Donnelly’s “Center” (i.e., her upstairs spare room). But how many flag officer signatures did Ms. Donnelly collect? Well, let’s just say that she gave us one thousand more reasons to believe what I’ve been saying for years… our community is too complacent, too believing of large organizational “leaders” who keep promising we’re on the verge of repeal (if only you’ll contribute just $100 more to their organizations), too reliant upon public opinion polls which procaim that the public is overwhelmingly on our side but which mask skewed intensity distributions, and too far in denial about how much work still needs to be done (and where it needs to be done) to bring this issue to the point where it is ready for some serious prime-time legislating again. It’s high time that reality be factored into the DADT Repeal Movement’s legislative, public relations , and grassroots strategies… SU to the rescue!

Monday, March 30, 2009


SO…. It’s been a while and I haven’t been the best among our SU member bloggers about keeping up my blog, but Jarrod has been keeping on me lately about posting now (and posting regularly) as we get ready for our ramp-up of SU, so here I am. Although I love reading blogs, the act of blogging is actually a little foreign and unnatural to me. However, I do recognize the value in doing so regularly, and I am committed to submitting to Jarrod’s persistent pressure to be more participatory with respect to SU member blogging.

We haven’t officially announced it yet (although some of you may have heard through the grapevine already), but SU is opening a full-time, permanent, physical office here in Washington, DC as of April 1st. We’ve been in ‘capacity-building’ mode since our founding over 3 years ago, and doing ad hoc projects to forward the DADT-Repeal Movement from time to time, but we recognize the need for a greater (and full-time) presence in DC and we are stepping up to the challenge by taking SU to the next level (actually several levels up!!).

Underestimation of SU and the Iraq- and Afghanistan generation of vets has been a consistent theme in the DADT-Repeal Community, the gay veteran community, and the wider GLBT advocacy community since SU began planning its first public advocacy project (CTD) in the fall of 2005, but we never fail to perform and surprise with explosive-step-forward after explosive-step-forward… and we’re about to do it once again. So boom!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Moving Forward: SU and DADT in 2009

Yesterday, November 30th, marked the 15th anniversary of the signing of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. In light of the significant shifts in the political winds of late, it now remains unclear whether the law will even live to see its next anniversary date. Yesterday also marked the anniversary of an unprecedented event and display on the National Mall one year ago, 12,000 Flags for 12,000 Patriots, which Servicemembers United proudly created, organized, and executed with the assistance and co-sponsorship of the other major organizations that consistently champion the DADT issue. With an extraordinary level of cooperation, we succeeded in presenting the image of a strong and united community as the national media generously covered our event and our issue.

SU (and its predecessor project, Call to Duty) was founded by gay and lesbian veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan era to represent, for the first time, the missing voices of our generation of troops and veterans in the DADT-repeal movement. While there are indeed older and more entrenched organizations that have long advocated for the repeal of DADT, SU has demonstrated unequivocally over the past 3 years that both the need and the room exist within the movement for an organization that is more inclusive and representative of this new generation of heroes.

While SU has made a deliberate effort to lay low and stay out of the national spotlight during the 2008 election season, its growing core of dedicated activists has not been sitting idly by. We are now well positioned and ready to aggressively recruit and mobilize untapped resources through our proven innovation, creativity, energy, passion, and unmatched connections within this vastly under-engaged community, much in the same way that the newer mainstream organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) has risen to national prominence over the past 5 years. By aggressively stepping forward and tapping the new social capital and civic engagement within our community, IAVA has succeeded in establishing representation for our generation’s voice in the wider veterans affairs arena. If we have learned anything from the breakthrough success of IAVA’s youthful and energetic leadership and from the unprecedented display of mass mobilization in this election, it is that the time is ripe for the Iraq and Afghanistan generation of veterans to step forward and assume a leadership role within the DADT-repeal movement.

As we go forward, we would like to continue to acknowledge and sincerely thank all who have supported, mentored, encouraged, and believed in us over the past 3 years. We will continue to strive to surpass your expectations and make you proud. And to all of our brethren still serving on active duty, as always, keep fighting for us and we’ll keep fighting for you!

--The Servicemembers United Team

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Opposition Commentary

Servicemembers United received the following emailed comment in response to our news story about the 28 generals and admirals stepping forward in November, 2007 to call for repeal of the DADT law. I will provide a response in my next blog posting. In the meantime, readers should feel fee to leave their own responses to the CDR Johnson's position in the comments section of this blog posting. --Alex

I disagree with the premise of the 28 generals’recent letter, but agree the military’s "policy", often called Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT), should be dropped.

In the 1993 law that bars homosexuals from serving, Congress noted that the military lifestyle is not compatible with a homosexual one. Imagine living on a warship where 100 or more may sleep in one open room for months at a time at sea with people not of their own choosing. Most members of Congress are fairly well educated. President Clinton signed it into law and he was a Rhodes Scholar.

DADT is not really the law but a Department of Defense “policy” created under President Bill Clinton generally barring the asking of one’s sexual orientation as part of the recruiting process or while on active duty. The 1993 law allows DADT, but it also allows the Secretary of Defense – at any time – to drop the policy and go back to asking one’s sexual orientation without restriction. It is sort of crazy to have a law that bars gays from the military but not being able to ask about it during the recruiting process.

If the DADT policy was dropped as the generals recommend, honest homosexuals would be barred from enlisting per the law. I believe the DADT policy should be dropped so we can prevent gays from enlisting in the first place as required by the law. That will save training money that is spent on homosexuals who are later discharged. Gays will always be in the military; they will just have to go back to lying to join.

If we are going to change the current law, we need to go all the way. The new law should specify that the military will no longer consider sexual orientation or gender in recruiting, shower and toilet facilities, and sleeping quarters. All facilities would be orientation and gender neutral; in other words, coed.

Imagine if your child or spouse were subject to living under the above described conditions with people not of their own choosing for months at a time. Right now many in the public are not concerned about this since our military is all volunteer, but one day we could have a draft again.

My proposed law change is the logical and fair thing to do for both homosexual and heterosexual personnel. It is supported by the reasoning being used to repeal the current 1993 law: that sexual orientation in a military environment is irrelevant and the military is no different than civilian society - exactly the opposite of what the vast majority of Congress held in 1993. I wonder how much of the 1993 Congress is still in Congress and how they voted in 1993? Maybe someone can print a list up and publish it.

There is one form of discrimination that no one has made note of that I am aware of. Under a 1986 Federal law, the military must keep HIV positive personnel, mostly male homosexuals, until their health makes them too ill to work. Only then they are medically discharged with full benefits. With modern medicine they may stay in the military for decades. These same people are barred from serving overseas or on ships and only serve in the United States. Thus HIV negative personnel have to serve more often overseas and in harms way. Any other condition that has this effect on military readiness results in discharge. Congress should consider legislation to either: 1. Allow HIV positive personnel to serve anywhere or 2. Require that all HIV personnel be immediately medically discharged.

I would gladly participate in a debate but I know from experience at Tulane Univ. and other places that gay rights supporters do not like to debate people with views contrary to their own. They consider contrary points of view as hate speech and use that as an excuse not to debate. This is spelled out in gay activists’ organizing materials when it comes to recruiters coming to college campuses. Their real reason is they know their reasoning would not stand up to a logical and spirited (no name calling) debate. I would recommend any debate be conducted in the enlisted berthing compartment on a Navy ship so all in attendance and viewing the debate will have a sense what military life is like.

CDR Wayne L. Johnson, JAGC, Navy (Retired), Alexandria, VA

Thursday, December 6, 2007

I Beg Your Pardon, Mr. Marzullo

On Friday afternoon, Greg Marzullo, the Washington Blade Features Editor, posted a piece on the Blade’s blog about our 12,000 Flags for 12,000 Patriots event, at which 28 new generals and admirals came forward at once to call for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” While Marzullo started out praising us veterans, particularly Eric Alva, he went on to… well, I’d better let you read for yourself. Here are a few selected excerpts that succinctly summarize the point of his article (which you can find for yourself at

“…I couldn't help but shake my head in utter bewilderment at this entire memorial. Twelve thousand people had dedicated a good portion of their lives to a homophobic institution that not only asked them to risk life and limb, but also asked them to perpetuate cycles of violence in an already violent world.”

“When I looked at all those stars-and-stripes planted in the ground, I wondered, ‘What if all these people had been working for world peace instead? What if every one of these unfairly discharged queer persons was planting gardens, feeding the homeless and saving vanishing habitats?’”

“This is where queer people really needed to be — putting their efforts into changing the culture of tomorrow, not the destruction of current cultures at the hands of patriarchal, autocratic monsters.”

So I couldn’t help but once again wonder, why is it that an anti-military minority within the gay community cannot understand that there are gays and lesbians who actually like the military, who have an affinity for the lifestyle, who can contribute to it and benefit from what it offers, who take pride in service to the nation, and, most importantly, who recognize the timelessness and importance of the institution of the U.S. military? Why can that minority not separate their opinions about contemporary events from the undisputed need for a strong and capable military?

The U.S. military is a glorious institution, a necessary institution, and one that provides many opportunities for millions of Americans. Since when has “planting gardens” provided a G.I. Bill benefit - a benefit that enabled me and millions of others to get a college education? Does this minority not remember that the U.S. military is the institution that helped liberate Europe from the Nazi empire, helped liberate Asia from the Japanese war machine, and helped end the Holocaust? I don’t think Hitler was in the process of being persuaded by the peace movement, much less an army of gardeners.

To quote someone whose name I cannot remember at this specific moment, we should always have “old men talk more before we send young men to die,” but to demean the U.S. military and those who serve because you disagree with an ephemeral political issue is reckless and disrespectful at best, in my humble opinion.

You know, this is the second encounter I’ve had with Mr. Marzullo. He actually wrote the very first article I ever appeared in with regards to the DADT issue. In December of 2005 he wrote up a piece for the Washington Blade on the upcoming Call To Duty Tour I had organized for the following spring, and the very first line of that article mistakenly reported that I had been dishonorably discharged from the Army. The error was quickly corrected in the online version of the article at least (my discharge was fully honorable, for the record!), but being the very first piece of media I had ever done for DADT, I was quite distraught over the mistake, needless to say. That erroneous assumption on Marzullo’s part seems to have only been the beginning of his lack of understanding of the world of the U.S. military, of why Americans answer its call to duty, and of the one million gays and lesbian veterans in this country who have recognized the nobility of service.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The First Flag

The “12,000 Flags for 12,000 Patriots” events in Washington, D.C., which Servicemembers United created and co-sponsored with several other organizations, are officially over. I originally conceived of the idea for this project while driving through Dahlonega, Georgia during Memorial Day weekend last year. This proud, quaint town lines its streets with American flags for about a week surrounding veteran-oriented holidays, with each flag representing a veteran from the area. The display makes for quite an impressive site several times per year, but I had to wonder how many of those being honored were gay or lesbian. If there were any who were, I wondered how their lives might have been affected by the anti-gay regulations and whether any of them had been the victims of those regulations, and later of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” over the decades. I also wondered whether the town would even put up a flag for someone whom they knew was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

You’re probably beginning to see how the idea for “12,000 Flags for 12,000 Patriots” came about.

“Wouldn’t it be great,” I thought, “for those who had been discharged under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to be recognized like this?” As the day wore on, I recall thinking through the idea more and more. At some point, it occurred to me that it would be absolutely amazing to put just such a display on the National Mall – in front of the nation and on the doorstep of Congress. As I envisioned what 12,000 American flags on the National Mall might look like, I grew more and more excited about the potential of such a unique and unprecedented event for the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” issue.

This past weekend, that idea came to fruition as we placed one flag for each servicemember discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law on a grid across the National Mall. And on Friday, November 30th, the 14 anniversary of the signing of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, we were joined by the heads of three other organizations that work on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” two 2-star generals, numerous other veterans, and a barrage of media to break the news of 28 new generals and admirals who chose our event to step forward to call for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

As the Executive Director of the new Servicemembers United, I emceed this historic event, but the most personally rewarding part of the entire event was the planting of the first flag... which I did for myself.