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Danny Ingram's Journal

Washington DC
May 9-11, 2010

As President, I represented American Veterans for Equal Rights [AVER], on Monday and Tuesday, May 10 and 11, 2010, at Veterans Lobby Day on Don't Ask Don't Tell in Washington DC. Servicemembers United and Human Rights Campaign sponsored the event, in partnership with over 70 other LGBT organizations from around the nation, including AVER, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Transgender American Veterans Association, and many other groups. 425 LGBT vets representing all branches of the Armed Forces participated in the event which culminated in a massive lobbying of Congress on Tuesday, May 10. The event has been labeled an "unprecedented phenomenal grassroots effort" by SU's President Alex Nicholson.

I arrived in DC on Sunday, May 9, and had the great honor of taking Dr. Frank Kameny to dinner  that evening. Eric Cox of AVER's DC
National Capital Chapter joined Dr. Kameny and me. The three of us had dinner and talked for about two hours. Getting to meet the legendary Frank Kameny, one of the original founders of the modern LGBT movement and a WWII vet, was a remarkable experience for me. What a sweet, fascinating and courageous gentleman he is. Dr. Kameny will be one of three WWII veterans to be honored at AVER's 20th anniversary event in Washington, DC in June. This event is becoming increasingly important as I will explain later.

On Monday morning, May 10, I joined 40 other participants in an extremely rare opportunity to meet with the DOD's Comprehensive Review Working Group at the Pentagon. The Working Group has been charged with developing an overall strategy of how to implement the repeal of DADT. I emphasize the word "how" because it has become a very important distinction. The meeting was hosted by Charles Johnson, General Counsel of the DOD, and General Carter Ham, Commanding General, US Army Europe, who is in charge of the Working Group. All together there were 32 stars on various shoulders in the room, certainly the most I have ever see in one location. General Ham asked that the discussion be off the record. I will simply say that the Working Group greatly valued the opportunity to hear from a group of gay veterans, a voice they have not previously heard. The Group seemed genuinely committed to accomplishing the mission with which they have been tasked. It was a very positive experience to hear a four star general use the words "gay" and "lesbian" comfortably. General Ham also noted that he preferred the phrases "serving honestly" and "serving truthfully" to "serving openly". Most important message: Congress needs to untie the military's hands and let them implement a policy of non-discrimination. All the military needs is a go ahead.

One of the many luminaries who participated in the event was the ever charming Lt. Dan Choi. I told him that I didn't recognize him without his arm chained to the White House fence. He was much more energetic and humorous than the last time I met him in Ft. Lauderdale when he spoke at the AVER national convention in October 2009.

On Tuesday morning, May 11, we heard from a number of speakers including HRC's President Joe Solmonese and two polling data experts. Data shows that, not surprisingly, straight troops still don't want to serve with LGBT people. Age appeared to be an important factor in acceptance. The 400+ vets were divided into teams by states, for pre-scheduled meetings to our state's congressional representatives. I was the only vet from Georgia, so I had a busy schedule. The most important point I made was, "We want to see DADT repealed this year." I also told my personal story in these meetings; being one of the first to have been discharged under DADT in 1994.

We all marched over to the capitol building where we were greeted by Senator Lieberman who is the sponsor of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act in the Senate. He gave us our commission to go lobby like crazy and off we went. Along with an SLDN attorney, Emily
Sussman, I made our first visit to one of my local Georgia reps, David Scott. I am the treasurer of the DeKalb County Democratic Party, which touches the districts of three reps, including David Scott. Of course we didn't meet with Congressman Scott, but rather with a staffer. The strategy in the House is to attach the Military Readiness Enhancement Act as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The amendment will then be voted on. Either they keep it or they don't. Scott will likely vote for the amendment, but he is too cautious to sign on as a sponsor. I'll work on that.

Next we went to see Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss, who has already stated his opposition to the bill, stating during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that repealing the rule would pave the way for allowing "alcohol use, adultery, fraternization, and body art" in the military. We met with his aid. The strategy of the opposition was becoming clear. Those who opposed the bill to repeal DADT wanted to wait until the Pentagon Working Group releases their report in December, claiming that the report was in fact a study to determine whether or not to repeal DADT, rather than "how" to repeal DADT. No coincidence that this would be after the November elections. We began to see more signs of this.

Our next visit to Republican Senator Johnny Isakson revealed the strategy had already been circulated. Isakson's aid, however, seemed to be moved by my personal story. There were other arguments that appealed to him. My personal favorite, being that a soldier who is wounded on the battlefield would rather have a gay medic save his life than die. That argument could not be denied, and I used it all day. Another important point is that DADT discriminates against women, who are discharged at twice the rate as men; in addition to the fact that minorities are also discharged at disproportional rates. Another fact that we brought up, while leaving shoe leather all over the many tunnels that connected Senate and Representative office buildings with the capitol, regards ROTC scholarships: many thousands of young people are denied the opportunity of an increasingly important college education because DADT denies them access to an ROTC scholarship if they are LGBT.

Next we met with NY Rep. Nadler's chief staffer, and I found out all about "whipping".  "Whipping" is getting fellow reps to sign on at the last minute to make sure they vote the way you want them to vote. Nadler will be doing some whipping for the bill. A positive experience. We were energized.

Did you know that there are mini subways under the capitol? We rode them a lot. We got lost a lot. We were escorted out at one point. We went through many security scans and changed badges. I wanted to see the inside of the capitol dome. I saw it briefly and rapidly. We passed through the many hallways and many tunnels, all a rapid pace in an attempt to see everyone. We ate lunch in one of the underground cafeterias. If you've read Dan Brown's latest book "The Lost Symbol" which is set in DC, let me tell you a lot of those tunnels really are there!

Next was my Representative, the legendary John Lewis, who has an office in the Capitol because he is the chair of the Budget Committee. We met with his chief staffer, Miguel Martinez, who I have talked with on the phone many times. Lewis's office looks out dead center on the Mall. Nancy Pelosi's private balcony was directly below. I asked, but they don't open the window to pass notes down. Lewis is a cosponsor of the bill. They see all civil rights issues as exciting, and they were looking forward to the DADT battle. Lewis will be using his "dignitas" to influence other members of the House.

Photo courtesy of Pat Ryan/HRC

Photo courtesy of Pat Ryan/HRC

Next to see Representative Hank Johnson, whose district also touches DeKalb County, so my Democratic cap was on again. He is also a cosponsor. He and Lewis are the only two cosponsors of the bill in Georgia. I thanked him for his work as a Rep. and his co-sponsorship of the bill.  He said he would be there for us.

We were fortunate, also, to speak with Maine
Representative Chellie Pingree. She is very supportive.  Rep. Pingree pulled Colorado Representative Jared Polis out of the meeting so we can speak with
 him. He, of course, is also  very supportive.
                                    Photos courtesy of Pat Ryan/HRC

Bottom line: Inclusion of DADT repeal language in the Defense Authorization is a 50/50 chance. The argument to "wait to hear from the military" is very compelling, even if it is misleading. Many congress members may buy the argument. If they can stall until after the November elections when Democrats may lose one of more houses, the chance to lift the ban may be lost for several years, even though it certainly seems inevitable at this point.

What you can do: if you live in Florida bombard Senator Bill Nelson with letters faxes and phone calls. We need his vote. Same for Jim Webb in Virginia. Your voice as a veteran counts more. I have said that all along. They need to hear the voices of LGBT vets. They will not hear the voices of LGBT service members because those service members will be discharged if they speak up. I have said repeatedly that we must be their voices. In this case, it is literally true.

Regardless of what happens with the House and Senate bills, the presence of three distinguished WWII vets to lend their voices to the battle will be very important when AVER participates in DC Pride in early June. The final bills could be working their way through the process at that time. We hope that Frank Kameny, John McNeill, and Jack Strouss will have a profound influence on the battle to beat the ban.
Danny Ingram, National President
American Veterans for Equal Rights

  2010 Gay Military Signal
Photos courtesy of Pat Ryan/HRC