Polis, DeGette call on Obama to suspend ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy

Joining 75 other lawmakers organized by Florida Democrat Alcee Hastings, U.S. Reps. Jared Polis and Diana DeGette signed a letter sent Monday to President Barack Obama urging the president to suspend “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” investigations and discharges, which have led to the ouster of more than 250 gay and lesbian service members from the military since Obama took office.

“Although we are confident that you will remain true to your campaign promise to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, our LGBT service members and our country’s national security will continue to suffer if initial action is delayed until 2010 or 2011,” the letter reads. The 77 members of Congress — all but one Democrats — ask Obama to order “that no one is asked and that you ignore, as the law requires, third parties who tell.”

“This now places squarely in the White House’s court a need to give a response other than the feeble ‘Congress has to do it through legislative action,’ ” wrote Pam’s House Blend blogger Pam Spaulding, who passes on this release from Michael D. Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara:

Lt. Dan Choi, an Arabic translator whose discharge under “don’t ask, don’t tell” is imminent, stated that, “I am delighted that so many members of Congress are calling on the White House to allow me to do my job in Iraq, and to allow all other loyal gay service members to do their jobs as well.” Today’s Congressional letter cites Choi’s impending discharge as an example of why swift presidential action is needed.

The letter highlights the military’s actions against Choi, a member of the New York National Guard First, and Air Force Lt. Colonel Victor Fehrenbach, saying “[t]heir bravery and abilities have been tested in combat, and now they face impending discharge under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

First Lieutenant Choi, a current National Guardsman with the 1st Battalion of the 69th Infantry in Manhattan, is a West Point graduate, Arabic language specialist, and Iraq War veteran who is under investigation for refusing to lie about his identity.

Lieutenant Colonel Fehrenbach, Assistant Director of Operations for the 366th Operations Support Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho, has honorably served his country for 18 years as an F-15E pilot. He has received nine air medals, including a Medal for Heroism during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and was hand-picked to protect the airspace over Washington, D.C. after the Pentagon was attacked on September 11, 2001. Lieutenant Colonel Fehrenbach, who has flown combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan against the Taliban and al Qaeda, continues to serve while the recommendation for his honorable discharge moves forward to a review board, and eventually to the Secretary of the Air Force. Just two years away from his 20-year retirement, he stands to lose $46,000 a year in retirement and medical benefits for the rest of his life if discharged.

The letter arrives amid rising tension between the Obama administration and national LGBT groups outraged over a Department of Justice brief filed earlier this month defending the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Last week, the freshman Democrat blasted the administration for its court filing, which compared gay marriage to incest.

Unhappy with what they perceive as foot-dragging by the Obama administration, gay-rights activists are calling on Polis and two other openly gay Democratic lawmakers — U.S. Reps. Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin — to boycott a Democratic National Committee fundraiser Thursday in Washington.

Along with his congressional colleagues, Polis still plans to attend the 10th Annual LGBT Leadership Council Dinner, which features Vice President Joe Biden as the headline speaker.

“He is a proud Democrat,” a Polis spokeswoman told The Colorado Independent late last week. “While he’s disappointed in the lack of movement from the administration, what the gay community needs now more than ever is a strong voice fighting for them in Washington, and the best way to do that is to stay active in the debate and not give up his seat at the table.”

The head of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a nonpartisan watchdog group dedicated to defending service members from “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” in addition to working to repeal the rule, announced Monday the group will protest outside the DNC dinner. Here’s the statement from the group’s executive director, Aubrey Sarvis:

SLDN will be outside boycotting the Democratic National Committee (DNC) LGBT event in Washington this Thursday. SLDN will be calling upon the President to end his silence on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” We will be wearing and handing out b of our board or our Military Advisory Council make their political views known. However, I understanduttons with the number 265, representing the number of service members who will have been discharged this week since President Obama was sworn in. We do not, nor would we want to, dictate how members that two board members are attending the DNC event. I also understand they will be making their own spirited and creative statements once inside the room.

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Ernest Luning

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