[EDITOR'S NOTE]: The following is a guest post by Steve Ralls, Director of Communications for the Servicemember's Legal Defense Network. In his work with SLDN, Steve has become a recognized authority on the military's gay ban. Steve serves as SLDN spokesperson, liason to members of the press corps, and works in formulating and implementing communications policy. He also serves on the steering committee for OUTfront, the LGBT program of the Nobel Prize-winning organization Amnesty International.
Is there a new covert operation underway at the Pentagon? And is it showing some cracks in the Pentagon's support for "Don't Ask, Don't Tell?" It seems that way.
The Advocate newsmagazine, while researching its current issue on gays in the military, received a surprising new statement about the ban on open service from DoD spokeswoman Cynthia O. Smith. The revised statement indicates that Pentagon leaders may be getting tired of having to turn away qualified gay Americans who want to serve our country.
In her statement, Smith reiterates that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is Congressional law... nothing new there. But it's the second paragraph in her remarks that gave all of us at Servicemembers Legal Defense Network reason to pause, and be cautiously optimistic. Referring to the lesbian and gay service members dismissed under the ban, Smith noted that they ""have the opportunity to continue to serve their nation and national security by putting their abilities to use by way of civilian employment with other Federal agencies, the Department of Defense, or in the private sector, such as with a government contractor."
That's been true since day one. Lesbian and gay federal employees not in uniform are covered by a presidential executive order that includes a policy of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Department of Defense, however, has never pointed out the fact... until now. Indeed, up until 2001, the Pentagon often pointed to commanders' assertions that the law was necessary to maintain good order and discipline. Then, after the terrorist attacks on September 11, DoD officials simply punted the ball to Congress, (accurately) pointing out that Congressional leaders could repeal the law if they saw fit. Now, with Smith's statement, they have gone one important step further.