NPR reported July 3 that LGBT donors contributed nearly $9 million to President Obama’s re-election campaign in the 72 hours following his May 9 historic announcement that he supports marriage equality. And June Pride Month at the White House and throughout the administration was replete with ‘firsts,’ including Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta formally recognizing the service of LGBT servicemembers and civilian Department of Defense employees and an official LGBT Pride Month event held at the Pentagon.
But much work remains, which President Obama noted at the White House Pride reception on June 15. “After decades of inaction and indifference, you have every reason and right to push, loudly and forcefully, for equality," he said.
That LGBT push will have a new look. In addition to Chad Griffin now heading the Human Rights Campaign and Herndon Graddick now leading GLAAD (both Angelenos), the LGBT military groups Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and OutServe announced they are joining forces to work on the many problems that still remain post-repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” They’ll announce the reorganization in October.
“This comes down to mission first, just as it always is in the military. Both of these organizations recognize they are stronger and more effective together,” says Josh Seefried, co-founder and co-director of OutServe, which serves active duty members.
“Since repeal, we’ve worked even more closely together, and in doing so, it has become more and more clear that our shared mission—representing actively serving military and veterans, as well as fighting to achieve full LGBT equality in the military—is better accomplished by uniting the two organizations and working together as one on behalf of the brave men and women of our armed forces,” said SLDN board of directors co-chair Mike Magee.
L.A.-based attorney, former Marine Captain and longtime SLDN board member Tom Carpenter is “excited” about the merger and points out there are some difficult issues to be tackled, including the official inclusion of trans servicemembers. Currently two outspoken trans servicesmembers serve on SLDN’s Military Advisory Council and are expected to continue after the groups join forces. OutServe recently devoted much space to trans servicemembers in their magazine.
"We made a representation to the trans community that we would not abandon them and that we will push to change the medical regulation so they will serve with honor,” Carpenter said. “I expect the new combined board to keep that promise."
The other issue that is perhaps more galling because of the Pentagon’s ability to fix it quickly is the inequity of family and domestic benefits.
“With a mere stroke of the pen by Secretary of Defense Panetta, a number of important benefits now only available to opposite-sex married couples could be granted to same-sex couples in committed relationships. And while the Pentagon continues to drag its feet and be unresponsive, LGB service members are being harmed on a daily basis,” Carpenter said.
Specifically, he cites the dire situation of National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan and her wife, Karen, and their child. Morgan is battling incurable stage IV breast cancer.
“Trying to obtain all her family benefits before she dies, Charlie is fighting in the courts and Congress for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act,” Carpenter said. “President Obama could direct the Secretary of Defense to change current regulations today, thus allowing Charlie, Karen and their child to receive some of the benefits she is entitled to. These benefits would include: an identification card allowing her wife to enter a military installation to take their child to the hospital, base housing, exchange and commissary privileges, deployment support, marriage and family counseling, relocation, financial management and free legal assistance, to name a few of the rights they are being denied by this administration.”
Carpenter was extremely disappointed that DOD General Counsel Jeh Johnson—the keynote speaker at the historic Pride event at the Pentagon on June 26—admitted that “there were inequalities between similarly situated couples in the military community” but failed to announce plans to correct the problem.
Johnson’s speech was a “lost opportunity,” said Carpenter. “At the very least, he should have announced a change in DoD regulations that would give dying Charlie Morgan and her family, as well as thousands of other families, some of the benefits they have earned by their service to our country. Platitudes are great, but action speaks louder than words.”