Guest Blogger

Beating Discrimination, One Battle at a Time

Filed By Guest Blogger | July 21, 2008 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: Ashwin Madia, Don't Ask Don't Tell, gay porn, law, military, Minnesota, pornography, straight porn

Editors' Note: Ashwin Madia is a graduate of Osseo High School and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota. After graduating law school, he chose to enlist in the United States Marine Corps in 2002. He served as a prosecutor, defense counsel, and legal advisor, and served in Baghdad beginning in 2005. In 2006, he completed his active duty and practiced law in the Twin Cities. Madia announced his candidacy for the 3rd Congressional District of Minnesota in October 2007 and won the Democratic (DFL) endorsement on April 12, 2008.

ashwin_madia_2.jpgI am a Marine Corps veteran, an Iraq war veteran and the Democratic candidate for Congress in Minnesota's Third District, so I hear a lot about patriotism these days. But real patriotism sometimes means taking on the system if you know what you're doing is the right thing. As a Marine Corps lawyer, I was one of the first attorneys to successfully defend a gay Marine from discrimination by the military.

In 2005, my client, Private First Class (PFC) Smith [real name not disclosed], was found to have downloaded gay pornography onto a government computer. On the exact same day, another Marine was found with straight pornography on his government computer. The straight Marine received a verbal reprimand by the commanding officer. The gay Marine was given: a demotion in rank, loss of pay, restricted in his movements on base, and most severe of all, an administrative separation from the Marine Corps with an Other-Than-Honorable (OTH) discharge, just one step below a court martial.

An OTH discharge is typically reserved for Marines who exhibit a serious pattern of misconduct over time -- disobeying orders, talking back to superior officers, chronic patterns of not showing up or failing physical examinations. An OTH discharge means you lose all your veterans benefits and it shows up on every college application and future job application for the rest of your life.

I presented PFC Smith's case to a review panel composed of senior Marine officers and enlisted Marines. This isn't a typical jury made up of soccer moms and high school gym teachers. I argued that there was no justification for the disparity in punishment given to the straight Marine and PFC Smith. Ultimately, the Panel overruled the commanding officer's recommendations and retained PFC Smith. Overruling a commanding officer's recommendation is a rare event in the Marines. In fact it's so rare that I never saw it happen again during four years of being a lawyer in the Marine Corps.

The panel's decision shocked quite a few people. But that's not the best part of the story.

PFC Smith still had to go back to duty and I was afraid he would be targeted by his peers with harassment or that he might even face physical threats. I kept in touch with him and not long afterward, I checked in to see how things were going. When PFC Smith got on the phone, he was calm and his voice level toned. He said, "Sir, nobody cares about that stuff."

If the Marines, some of the most conservative members of our society, can look beyond sexual preference, maybe the rest of America can do so too. If someone is willing to wear the uniform, fight, and possibly die for this country, it shouldn't matter who they are and who they love.

Ever since the start of my campaign, I have been reaching out to members of the LGBT community because I strongly believe in full equal rights for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans. I have been endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, eQualityGiving.org, and by Minnesota's Stonewall DFL (Democrats).

We need pragmatic problem solvers in Washington, not people who put their political ideology ahead of principles. It's time for a few more patriots in Congress and a few less politicians.

I am asking for your help. To donate to the campaign, you can visit http://www.democracyengine.com/page/amfc/. This is an open seat and one of the top House races in the country. With your help, we can help move the fight for equality forward in Congress.


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Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 22, 2008 7:31 AM

Ashwin, you are a fine American and I will be forwarding your contribution to all voters I know in Minnesota. I wish you every future success.

Nice post, Ashwin. Can I suggest that if you are truly supportive of LGBT issues you include this in the issues section of your website?

Ashwin, this is a really cool story. I'm not really into the rah-rah of the whole military complex (no offense), but I think you make a really good point. If Marines can get over it, why can't the rest of America?

I'm a little late jumping in here, but I wanted to put out both kudos and a pitch for Ashwin. If you haven't donated to his campaign yet - DO IT. Ya'll know I don't have any money, but Jerame and I have both donated $25 each. Every little bit helps! Ask Obama!

Great guest post, Ashwin. I was researching that story when I wrote another blog post about your congressional race, and I couldn't find much on it. I was wondering about the details!

And, yes, Congress absolutely needs more people like you in it.

Mr. Madia was known to be homophobic and against gay rights in college and made the decision to weaken GLBT student groups while at the University of MN.

http://www.mndaily.com/daily/1998/05/13/news/jigar/

His superhero stories and flaky past makes it difficult for a lot of people who really know him to support him. He has failed to gain the support of many hard-core democrats in the third district. Madia is nothing but an imposter.

http://minnesotaconservatives.wikispaces.com/10+Greatest+U+of+M+Moments

Good Information | August 5, 2008 9:19 PM

Ashwin has been responding to these baseless attacks since November. Here is a letter he wrote in response to a similar claim:

http://www.mndaily.com/articles/2007/11/05/72164303

A response
I write in response to Brandon Lacy Campos's letter in Thursday's Daily in which he reminisced about old political battles and described me as "virulently homophobic." Some name-calling comes with the territory of running for office, but other names are so beyond the pale that they demand a response. I am not, and have never been, a homophobe. I was particularly upset by this phrase given my strong progressive positions on LGBT issues. During my time in MSA, I tried to have an inclusive leadership style and was proud that I had supporters from many different communities at the University - including the LGBT community. In fact, political adversaries of mine described my supporters and governing coalition as a "motley crew" of liberals, moderates and conservatives. I took pride in the broad based support of my administration that spanned across the divides of politics, race, ethnicity and sexuality. If Campos had asked me my views on the LGBT community prior to writing his letter, I would have told him about how, as a Marine Corps lawyer, I defended a gay Marine against the military's bigoted and shameful "don't ask, don't tell" policy. I would have told him with pride about my unconditional support for a person very close to me who has recently come out. I also would have told him about my strong belief in full equal rights for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans. After sending his letter to the Daily, Campos contacted people within the LGBT community who actually know me to ask their views of me. After learning the truth about my position on LGBT rights, he wrote me the following in an e-mail: "I'm writing to, basically, to say best of luck with your campaign. I've read your Web site, and I think you will be an excellent addition to the U.S. Congress." Campos and I have talked with each other and reconciled - I consider him a friend who is helping with my campaign. I hope that he considers me a friend as well. Our country faces a bloody war in Iraq, spiraling budget deficits, widespread lack of health insurance, failing schools and the looming threat of global warming. We need to work together as a nation - heterosexuals and members of the LGBT community alike - to address these problems and move our country forward.