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Monday, December 20, 2010

DADT, President Obama and Congress

By David Mixner -

Over 18 years ago the LGBT community was in a state of pure joy with the election of Governor Bill Clinton from Arkansas. He had promised to issue an Executive Order lifting the ban on members of the LGBT community from serving in the United States Armed Forces. In order to support the new President, dozens of leaders, straight and gay, met in the Georgetown home of Bob Shrum and Marylouise Oates to create The Campaign for Military Service to be headed by highly respected Tom Stoddard (who has since passed away from AIDS). We rolled up our sleeves and began to work hard to support the President's promise. In the end, beaten and bruised, he announced what turned out to be the horribly oppressive "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
From that meeting and other ones, it has been a long seventeen years. What amazes me about them is the constant number of surprises, near misses, disappointments and raw courage that define those years. What I love about the political process and the people in it is that you never know what in the hell is going to happen on any given day. Such was the case of DADT this past two years. A roller coaster couldn't have provided such a wild ride politically and many of us have new gray hairs from the effort.
No one can doubt that sacrifice, courage and persistence by the LGBT community was the major reason DADT was repealed. However, we needed the political process to make it happen and we need to acknowledge how that unfolded.
Let me say very clearly: The repeal of DADT would not have happened without President Obama. No matter what your opinion, positive or negative, of this President he was clearly on our side and this to happen on his watch. Just think for one moment if John McCain had been elected President of the United States. Yesterday we had President Obama making calls to help pass DADT while Senator McCain was hysterically saying American soldiers would die if DADT was passed. Quite honestly, I can't think of any more perfect contrast of what a difference an election makes.
Politics is very strange indeed. Senator Joe Lieberman was one of my least favorite senators and yet I find myself today smiling in admiration of his tenacity and sheer determination to get his bill passed the Senate. Often I would think the legislation was dead and wake up to hear Senator Lieberman refusing to give up and presenting a new strategy. He has earned and deserves our admiration for this work. He may even have sacrificed his close friendship with McCain as they became bitter opponents on this bill.
My information from numerous Hill insiders is that it was a young women from HRC that worked with Senator Lieberman to come up with the 'stand alone' policy. Allison Herwitt and the senator made a smart choice.
No one delivered more consistently and quickly than Speaker Pelosi. Over and over again she shepherded this legislation quickly and deficiently through the House. We needed a House vote? She delivered. Once again this past week she demonstrated what an amazing Speaker she has been for the LGBT community.
Senator Harry Reid brought smiles to my face yesterday as he tweeted Lady Gaga and Lt. Dan Choi that he was keeping his promise to them! Yes indeed, the Majority Leader did keep his promise with a bulldog tenacity against the McCain juggernaut that was seeking any rule and any procedure to stop a vote from happening. Reid refused to give up.
And most surprisingly it wasn't even a close vote. We won 65 votes to 33 votes. Special love has to go out several members of Congress. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden who is undergoing prostate cancer surgery today flew back to DC to cast his vote. Day in and day out Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator Carl Levin and Congressman Patrick Murphy fought by our side to make this happen. Senator Susan Collins in the end kept at it and delivered eight Republican votes. There is a special place in our hearts for them
Over the last months, there were times I was convinced that all hope was gone but politics had many surprises in store for us. Would I have over the last two years chosen this path to victory? Oh, hell no! However, despite my differences with many choices, the job got done and everyone together achieved a historic victory.
many miles to go before we achieve full equality. Clearly we have to monitor and push on the implementation of the repeal. Right now, I want to savor the moment and say a huge thank you to all of the above. They were straight allies who stood by our side in the end. Thank you.

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