US gay rights groups honour dismissed gay soldiers

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Several leading LGBT organisations in the United States are to join forces later this month to honour the 12,000 servicemen and women discharged as a result of the ban on openly gay, bisexual or lesbian people in the country’s Armed Forces.

The current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy has been in place since 1994.

Commanders may not ask personnel their sexual orientation, but LGB people who are open about their sexuality may not serve openly.

The Human Rights Campaign has joined with the Servicemembers United, Log Cabin Republicans, Servicemembers Legal Defence Network and Liberty Education Forum, to host a three-day tribute, beginning on Friday, November 30th, the 14th Anniversary of DADT being signed into law.

12,000 flags will be placed on the National Mall in Washington DC, one for every discharged service member.

In addition to recognising the servicemembers discharged under DADT the event is planned to serve as a reminder of the hundreds of thousands unrecognised gay and lesbian Americans who have fought for the US in previous conflicts.

“‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ continues to be heavily scrutinised and we’ve now witnessed it turn into a Presidential campaign issue,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.

“The fact is our military commitments are vast and there are many gays and lesbians who want nothing more than to serve their country with honour.

“Repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ affects the lives of every American because it ultimately is affecting the national security of our country.”

Over the summer, the Human Rights Campaign organised the Legacy of Service Tour in early primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire to raise awareness against DADT and the discriminatory policies that affect the lives of the thousands of gay, lesbian and bisexual service members who are active in the U.S. military.

The tour’s launch helped propel DADT back into the national conversation and has made the issue a key question of the 2008 Presidential campaigns.

The issue has been featured in at least two Presidential primary debates aired on CNN – where all of the Democratic candidates were in favour of repeal and all of the Republican candidates opposed to repealing the law.

According to a recent Harris poll, 55 percent of Americans now support repealing DADT.

A December 2006 Zogby poll of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan found that 73 percent of soldiers reported being “comfortable … in the presence of gays,” and only 37 percent oppose repealing the policy.

Many military officials, including General John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Clinton, now believe that gays should be allowed to serve openly.

Legislation to repeal this discriminatory policy was introduced this spring in the House of Representatives. It currently has 136 co-sponsors.