Gay Rights Groups Pressure Pelosi on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Posted July 2, 2009 at 4:36pm

Groups seeking to overturn the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell— policy banning gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military have turned their focus to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), urging her in a letter timed with Independence Day to make repeal a priority.“Your voice and your leadership is needed at this crucial time,— the letter reads. “We cannot afford to lose any more talented soldiers critical to our national security.—Lt. Dan Choi, an Arabic-speaking gay soldier who has become a leading spokesman for proponents of repeal, is a co-signer of the letter and is featured in a Web graphic saying “Tell the Speaker, Don’t Fire Dan!—The California-based Courage Campaign said more than 74,000 had signed the letter as of 4:43 p.m. Thursday.A Pelosi aide said the Speaker supports repeal.“The Speaker has long supported the repeal of this policy. She opposed it in the ’90s, and she looks forward to the day Congress can repeal this,— Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said.But the issue has taken a back seat as President Barack Obama and Congress focus on the economy, health care, energy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Pelosi has not committed to a timetable for bringing a bill to the floor. The Speaker and the House’s three openly gay lawmakers huddled on the gay rights agenda before leaving for the July Fourth break, and they agreed to pursue other gay rights bills before attempting a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The House has already passed a hate crimes bill, and an employment nondiscrimination bill and federal worker partnership benefits are also on tap.“Obviously public opinion has dramatically shifted, but we have to be assured of success before we bring something like this to the floor,— a House leadership aide said. “What the Speaker is trying to do is work with the Members and also the interested groups in plotting a strategy that ensures success.—In the meantime, plans are in the works for hearings in the House Armed Services Committee this summer to set the stage for repeal. But outside advocacy groups have grown increasingly impatient as soldiers keep getting fired. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network counts soldiers fired since Obama took office. On Thursday, the number stood at 277.