Iraq and Afghanistan vets organise against gay ban

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A group of young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, veterans of the broader American “war on terrorism” and their active duty allies and supporters was launched today in the US.

Servicemembers United was formed to aggressively educate both the public and policymakers about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” issue and to give a stronger voice to the majority of servicemen and women who support strengthening the US Armed Forces by repealing the discriminatory law.

“This is a new era for the United States military and a turning point in the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ rejection movement” said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United.

“It’s time to move beyond partisan politics and antiquated assumptions and allow the military to have access to the talent it desperately needs today.”

Nicholson is a former human intelligence collector and Arabic speaker who was honourably but involuntarily discharged because of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, immediately after September 11th 2001.

Jarrod Chlapowski, the organisation’s deputy director and a former Korean linguist, who served along the De-Militarised Zone in Korea, summed up why the new organisation’s mission is so important:

“I served openly for five years in the United States Army and not one of my peers or superiors moved to have me separated,” Chlapowski said.

“In fact, I was well respected in my units, and some of the heterosexual men and women I served with have even become involved with us in movement to educate the public about the reality of gay men and women in the modern military.”

The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law was passed in 1993, in part, because the US Congress believed that the presence of a known gay man or woman in a military unit would negatively affect the order and discipline of that unit.

Since 1993, more than 12,000 services personnel have been involuntarily discharged because of the law, including more than 800 critical intelligence personnel, and between 35,000 and 56,000 have declined re-enlistment.

Today is the 14th anniversary of the signing of that law.

Since Monday, the Human Rights Campaign have been posting answers from the leading Democratic presidential candidates to the question:

“If you are elected President, what concrete steps would you take to overturn ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?'”

Their answers can found on where one is being posted a day.

It stands in contrast to leading Republican candidates who all spoke in favour of keeping the policy during a CNN/YouTube debate on Wednesday night.

55 percent of Americans support repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy according to a recent Harris poll.

In a Zogby poll of soldiers returning from Iraq in December 2006, 73 percent said that they felt “comfortable … in the presence of gays.”

Only 37 percent opposed scrapping the policy.

Stephen Vossler, a Servicemembers United supporter, is a straight

veteran who left the military in 2006. He said:

“I served with openly gay men and women the entire time I was in the military, and I am a better man for having done so.

“Even though I had never met a gay person before I joined the Army, in my personal opinion none of the predictions about problems with unit cohesion and morale came true when they came out to us.

“I want people to know that I’m proud to serve beside anyone who is motivated, capable, and who has my back in combat, whether they are gay or not.”

Proposed alternative legislation was introduced to the US Congress this spring.

The Military Readiness Enhancement Act would introduce a policy of non-discrimination. It currently has 137 sponsors.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy prohibits gays, lesbians or bisexuals revealing their sexuality, or talking about any gay relationship, while serving in the US armed forces.

Today activists will mark the 14th anniversary of the ban by hosting a three-day tribute, 12,000 Flags for 12,000 Patriots, on the National Mall in Washington DC.

The events recognise the 12,000 men and women kicked out of the military since the signing of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”