Two Key Staffers Leave HRC
Two communications staffers have left the nation’s largest GLBT lobbying organization; speculation regarding one of the departures centers around a recent act of civil disobedience by an openly gay soldier protesting the military’s ban on openly GLBT troops.
Trevor Thomas, the longtime Deputy Communications Director for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), sent an email out to inform recipients of his decision to leave the HRC and take on a position consulting with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), an organization that advocates for, and offers support to, gays and lesbians in the military that Thomas described as "a non-partisan, non-profit, legal services and policy organization dedicated to ending discrimination against military personnel affected by ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (DADT).
"I will now have the opportunity to focus full-time on repealing DADT and helping those discharged under the law," wrote Thomas, going on to note that, "More than 13,500 Americans have been denied the ability to serve--hurting our military readiness and national security."
President Obama has said that he favors an end to the current policy--Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), a policy under which gays and lesbians are allowed to serve as long as they do not speak up about their true sexuality. The anti-gay ban has been in place for 17 years, and critics have noted that the ban is subject to abuses, with heterosexual women in the armed forces being falsely reported as lesbians for rebuffing the sexual advances of male colleagues. In addition, gay servicemembers who have not spoken up about themselves have still been discharged when third parties have reported them.
A review of the ban in currently underway, and the criteria for discharging gay and lesbian soldiers are now being reformulated to help protect servicemembers.
Noted Thomas, "We are at a critical time to repeal the law this year as Congress begins to take action on the Defense Department budget next month."
One high-profile gay servicemember facing discharge is Lt. Dan Choi, who argues that adherence to the anti-gay policy stands in contradiction to the training America’s servicemembers are given--and constitutes a violation of their integrity, as well. Choi’s act of civil disobedience on March 18--and the apparent refusal of the HRC’s president, Joe Solmonese, to accompany Choi to the White House from a rally in Freedom Park--left some in the GLBT community wondering about the HRC’s priorities, while others questioned Choi’s decision to get himself arrested.
Advocate.com reported on March 18 that Choi handcuffed himself to the White House fence. Capt. Jim Pietrangelo, who had already been discharged under the anti-gay ban, joined him. Both men wore uniforms.
Choi had not been scheduled as a speaker at the Human Rights Campaign’s March 18 rally against the ban, which took place at Freedom Plaza and featured comedian Kathy Griffin; even so, he requested, and was granted, a spot to address the crowd. When he took the mike, Griffin asked Choi what his response might be to those who oppose the ban and say that gays wanting to serve openly have "an ulterior motive."
Responded Choi, "You’re great at telling joke, but let me make one thing very clear: this is not a joke. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is not a joking matter. It is the only law that enforces shame." Choi went on to say that the law constitutes "a dereliction of duty, and it is a dereliction of my moral code and my moral fiber" to keep quiet and serve as a closeted gay man. "Our fight actually isn’t just here at Freedom Plaza," Choi told the crowd. "Our fight is at the White House. And I am asking you to send a message to the president with me, to my Commander in Chief: repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Not next year, not tomorrow, but now." Choi went on to announce, "Following this rally, I will be leading to the White House to say, ’enough talk.’ "