Michael Hamar

Senator Jim Webb's Office Responds to my Post on Bilerico, and I respond to him

Filed By Michael Hamar | May 15, 2010 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: Don't Ask Don't Tell, Elaine Donnelly, ENDA, gays in the military, Jim Webb, religious based discrimination

One thing about being a blogger is that you never know who may be reading what Jim Webb.jpgyou write and/or what kind of sensitive nerve you might touch upon.

A case in point is an e-mail I received Friday afternoon in response to my last post here on Bilerico and a similar version on my blog, Michael-in-Norfolk that raised concerns about Virginia U.S. Senator Jim Webb's support for the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. Who was the e-mail from? Jessica Smith, Senator Webb's Communications Director.

As requested by Ms. Smith, I am sharing the Senator's response which is set out below in its entirety. In a subsequent post, I will share the response I sent back to the Senator's office. Here is the statement from Jim Webb's office:

Michael:

I read your blog posts yesterday, and before we wrap up the week, I wanted to clear up some misinformation and inaccurate conclusions you've drawn regarding Senator Webb's position, background, and outreach around "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

As someone who has spent his life in and around the military and who currently serves as the Chairman of the Personnel Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, no one should doubt Senator Webb's commitment to the well-being of our men and women in uniform and their families.

He has also cosponsored measures in Congress to prevent discrimination and protect the fundamental rights of all Americans, including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

With respect to the issue at hand, Senator Webb agrees that a review of the current "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is appropriate and timely. He believes that Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen announced a responsible and careful approach toward the policy's examination. He strongly agrees that this approach must involve the full, open input and engagement of those serving in uniform today, including our military leadership, our active duty service members in all services and at all levels, and their family members.

This deliberative approach mirrors the process that Senator Webb employed in 1987 when, as Secretary of the Navy, he opened up more billets to women than any Secretary of the Navy in history. He convened a special study group, reporting back to him through the Navy's uniformed leadership, that conducted a thorough examination of the Navy's assignment policies and other issues. His approval of the study group's recommendations led to a large expansion in the number of sea-going billets available to women officers and enlisted personnel.

During today's consideration of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, the Senator and members of our staff have met with dozens of military service organizations, active-duty military, veterans, and other stakeholders. Although the Senator has not met with Elaine Donnelly personally during this process, members of our staff have met with her, as well as with representatives of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Equality United, Servicemembers United, the Human Rights Campaign, and other groups seeking repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." These interactions have ensured that the Senator and our office are more fully informed on their concerns and their reasons for having the law repealed.

Senator Webb has taken a serious, deliberative approach to examine and address this policy. Because this issue is so important to your readers, it is my hope that you will share this information with them.

Thank you,
Jessica Smith
Senator Webb's Communications Director

The following is the response sent back to Senator Webb's office as to why I disagree with the Senator's position and why more study is not necessary:

Dear Ms. Smith,

Thank you for the message. I will review it and write about it. I will also share it - and this response - with some of the other bloggers and activists that I know personally who share my views on the need to repeal DADT THIS YEAR.

Personally, regardless of Senator Webb's explanation, I see the Pentagon review as a transparent stalling tactic. Numerous allies have already taken an approach of allowing gays to openly serve with no difficulties. Moreover, U.S. troops are interacting with allied troops that include openly gay military service members. The world has not ended. To claim that somehow U.S. service members are more bigoted or less able to go with the new program than members of foreign armies and navies is insulting to our troops. You might like to read the report referenced in this story:

Smooth Transition for Military Gays in U.S. Allies

Here's the link to the report itself:

Open Service and our Allies [ed: links to pdf]

Here are highlights from the report's executive summary:

No significant problems have arisen as a result of a transition to open service. Notably, not one country studied in this report has made any changes to its housing or bathrooms. Moreover, although all the countries studied in this report have reported scattered incidents of harassment, this report also shows that there has been no pervasive discrimination against or harassment of gay and lesbian servicemembers. While some countries achieved a successful transition through educational and sensitivity training, others have not addressed harassment of gay and lesbian servicemembers in their trainings. The common thread, instead, has been an emphasis on strong leadership and a clear statement of the behavior that is expected of servicemembers. This report also shows that none of the countries studied have experienced a decline in unit cohesion or morale. To the contrary, many of the countries studied have seen an increase in morale due to a servicemember's increased ability to focus on work rather than hiding their sexual orientation and a decrease in paranoia and suspicion as a result of the new open environment.

The claim that a lengthy study is needed simply is a dog that doesn't hunt. There is no need to recreate the wheel when other nations have already done it.

If you have read my personal blog, Michael-in-Norfolk as well as the posts I write on The Bilerico Project, you will know that I know many gays now in the military. Some hold significant rank and responsibilities. I know others who made it to retirement like the current chair of Equality Virginia who served 20 years in the Air Force. Further, I also know a number who have been outed by unnamed sources, subjected to witch hunts and discharged just shy of reaching retirement.

It is a travesty that patriotic and honorable citizens are treated like lepers. Especially since we are talking about a policy that in the final analysis is based on 100% religious based discrimination. Don't Ask, Don't Tell makes a mockery of the supposed freedom of religion guaranteed by the U. S. Constitution. DADT deprives gays of their constitutional right to freedom of religion, plain and simple. I have stated numerous times that if he had a backbone and/or had meant what he said during the 2008 campaign, President Obama would take action and suspend discharges pending Congressional repeal. Obama has proven to be no Harry Truman, as noted by Truman's grandson.

The reality is that November is going to be a potentially tough time for Democrats. Locally, Glenn Nye is going to face a very tough challenge. While Glenn supports ENDA, he and Senator Webb have yet to deliver on ENDA or DADT. Because of this, many in the LGBT community - myself and my partner included - are seriously debating whether it is worth bothering to vote in November. The Democrats have held the White House and majorities in both houses of Congress and yet all we see on DADT and ENDA are delay. Perhaps deliberate delay.

Meanwhile, different Democrat fund raisers call and look for LGBT money, grass roots support and votes - I received one such call just yesterday from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. I refused to give money and told the caller why. We get nothing in return. Hence why I and others support the "Don't Ask, Don't Give" campaign started by John Aravosis at America Blog. Politics is a two way street - although too many elected officials seem to forget that fact - and I intend to continue the drum beat for a repeal of DADT THIS YEAR and for passage of ENDA.

Sincerely,

Michael Hamar
Hampton/Norfolk, Virginia


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They never say that he supports the repeal of DADT. They only say he thinks the review is a correct response - as if the review is to determine whether or not to repeal the legislation instead of how to implement it.

It's no skin off his nose to come out firmly in favor of repeal. In fact, it would dramatically help our cause if he did.

tiggertampa | May 15, 2010 10:17 AM

"He convened a special study group, reporting back to him through the Navy's uniformed leadership, that conducted a thorough examination of the Navy's assignment policies and other issues. His approval of the study group's recommendations led to a large expansion in the number of sea-going billets available to women officers and enlisted personnel."

This process has already been done for DADT with overwhelming support for appeal. Time to stop the talking and issue the orders.

JonathonEdwards | May 15, 2010 11:21 AM

You lost me at "DADT deprives gays of their constitutional right to freedom of religion". I think you mean "homophobia derives from religiously based bigotry and DADT derives from homophobia" in which case I partially agree. The way you wrote this, however, makes "the gay" seem like a religion against which DADT discriminates. A little confusing and perhaps too complex an idea for congressional staffers.

The "study" was an attempt to provide "cover" for reluctant supporters - moderate and conservative Democrats and perhaps a few Republicans.

That seems to be the White House strategy. The problem is what happens during the mid-terms. I think Democrats are suggesting we better help them this November or it will be "our fault."

Churches own mid-term elections. It doesn't look good, study or not.

steve talbert | May 15, 2010 1:48 PM

In response to AndrewW about the message that we need to help the Dems get reelected to pass ENDA and repeal DADT,, I agree,, but I tell them "It is better to have an enemy you know you have to fight against than a supposed friend who you don't know is either going to run away or might stab you in the back". It they don't fulfill their campaign promises from 2006 and 2008,then they aren't the right people for the job. Do not let losers hold you responsible for their own failure.

I only give and vote for candidates who have done specific things to move our country forward.

Margaretpoa Margaretpoa | May 15, 2010 3:39 PM

Whatever else you may think of him, his telling the truth about his billeting of women in 1987. I served on the Carl Vinson, (CVN-70), while the first trial of women serving on board an aircraft carrier was going on.

What bothers me in this whole debate is the role of transgendered service members. DADT can be repealed all the way until the cows come home but that won't allow transgendered Americans to serve nor will it restore the benefits to those of us who were thrown out because of it.

Michael B | May 15, 2010 4:24 PM

From the official DOD transcript of the February 2nd Senate Armed Services Committee hearing (minus his obligatory and transparently insincere niceties; emphasis mine):

SEN. WEBB (to Secretary Gates): ... My understanding from hearing both of your statements is, this year period that you’re going to take in order to examine the issues will be followed then by CLEARER OBSERVATIONS about the IMPLICATIONS OF CHANGING THE LAW. Would that be a correct way to state it? So you’re NOT coming in here today and saying, we’re GOING to change the law ....

SEC. GATES: Our hope would be that the information we would develop during the course of this review would help inform the legislative process.

SEN. WEBB: Right. I salute both of you for VERY CAREFUL statements. And Adm. Mullen, I salute you for the courage of what you said. But I want to also emphasize that you balanced that, in your statement, saying YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT'S GOING TO COME OUT OF THIS. WE DON'T KNOW.

...what we’re looking for here is an examination of the present law. What is the most damaging aspect of the present policy. ... AND then, again, what are the PERILS of undoing the law?
Where are we going? Do we – WOULD WE KNOW WE WERE GOING IN THE PROPER DIRECTION? We don’t – WE CAN'T SAY THAT TODAY.

... we have a duty here in a very proper way to understand the IMPACT of [repeal] on operating units, to raise the level of understanding of the COMPLEXITY of this issue among the American people and up here ...."

He strongly agrees that this approach must involve the full, open input and engagement of those serving in uniform today, including our military leadership, our active duty service members in all services and at all levels, and their family members.

Ms. Smith: F@ck you. F@ck your boss. And f@ck your "poll the poor troops" nonsense.

Every week a new video of troops prancing to pop music circulates the internet.

They seem to be quite comfortable in their sexuality before your absurd poll is done.

Repeal DADT now.

John Rutledge | May 16, 2010 11:11 AM

I am a native Virginian which is a bit embarrasing to admit. Even so, I will always vote. I urge everyone to always vote. To give up, stay home, and not participate is unthinkable. I find it cynical, whiney, and ineffective. You don't vote, you don't have a voice. It is about being the change you want to see. We can choose to be the change, or stay home and make snide comments from the sidelines. This is life, get in the game or watch it run by. Thank you for informing us and Sen Webb. Please stay in the game. We all need your voice. We all need everyone's voice.

Hey, Michael. You and I agree on most things, including this. It is a delay tactic which I wish were not necessary. But, I think the administration wants to ensure this issue is not a problem for the Nov. election. Strategy for this one is important. Repeal of DADT is critical and the only fair and reasonable thing to do. On the other hand, I don't want to lose the war. A few more months of waiting might be worth it for the long run. Make sense?

RJ

Thanks for posting this exchange. at least there are some humans who work for these people who notice what's going on.

I have also forwarded some of the comments left on my blog, Michael-in-Norfolk, to Senator Webb's staff. The comments are not supportive of Webb's delaying tactics and among other things threaten staying home this coming November and not voting and not giving any more money to Democrats.

Ms. Smith in Webb's office has labeled such responses as receiving Webb's communication with "hostility and antagonism."

JamesStone | May 17, 2010 7:22 PM

I think it is interesting that this "investigation" must include input from other servicemen and their families?? Does he mean straight service members and their families..of course he does..the gay people would be risking their careers under DADT if they spoke openly. When there was racial separation ..did they ask all of the white service members if it would be okay if they roomed with a black person before integration was ordered?
How many thousands and thousands of dollars does this investigation cost to the taxpayer?

This country used to be a beacon for civil rights. Now we lag far behind the rest of the western world.