Local linguists lobby D.C. to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Three former military linguists from Monterey County joined the Veterans Lobby Day to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in our nation’s capitol last week, assembling more than 400 lesbian, gay and bisexual veterans from 44 states.
The event created enough buzz in the military community that more than a handful of active-duty service members participated – including one who took leave from his unit currently stationed in Iraq – despite the potential risk of being discharged under the very law they were pushing to repeal.
On May 10 a small group of veterans met with General Carter Ham and Jeh Johnson, the co-chairs of the Pentagon’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Working Group, while others met with White House staff.
“NEVER BEFORE HAS THE MILITARY BEEN THIS FAR AHEAD OF CONGRESS.”
“While the Pentagon is working on a plan for the implementation of repeal, Congress is currently debating whether or not to allow this to move forward. Never before has the military been this far ahead of Congress,” said former Arabic linguist Jeffrey Kongslie. “The only thing standing in the way of full equality in our armed forces is for Congress to act.”
The next day, more than 400 veterans descended on Capitol Hill to lobby Congress to support current legislation for repeal. The Military Readiness Enhancement Act, introduced in the House by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA), and in the Senate by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), would repeal DADT and replace it with a policy of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation while allowing those discharged under the law to re-enlist.
Repeal of DADT is supported by President Barack Obama, Dick Cheney, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen and Colin Powell, as well as 75 percent of Americans, according to a 2010 Washington Post/ABC poll.
I was one of three linguists on our lobbying team, which included Jeffrey Kongslie and another man who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of his job:
I served six years in the U.S. Navy as a Hebrew linguist and was discharged twice under DADT. In a May 11 letter to President Obama, I wrote, “This law forces good people to lie, evade and mislead their commanders and goes against the very core values of the military service in which we serve. With a military stretched thin between two wars, now is the time to stop discharging men and women who valiantly serve our nation.”
Kongslie of Santa Cruz served six years in the Air Force as an Arabic linguist. He is now development director for UC Santa Cruz’s Division of Physical and Biological Sciences and owns downtown Santa Cruz wine shop Vinocruz with his husband. “I chose not to re-enlist just before Sept. 11  because of the pressures living under DADT,” he says. “Had I been able to serve honestly, I would still have been participating in intelligence-gathering efforts preceding 9/11, and then as we invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Our third team member attended Monterey’s Defense Language Institute twice in his military career, is fluent in four languages and continues to work as a civilian in support of the military. “It isn’t easy being a community leader,” he says. “You put everything at risk. Your entire life is suddenly in the spotlight, and while some of the veterans here have been doing this for a while, this is my first time.”
Our team met with several legislators from California: Sen. Dianne Feinstein and representatives Mike Thompson, John Garamendi and Pete Stark, all Democrats. Republican Rep. John Campbell, while not a co-sponsor of the current legislation, has expressed his support for repeal. Finally, the team met with Rep. Sam Farr, a Democrat from our home district who has long supported DADT repeal. The congressman expressed his continued support by helping coordinate panel discussions at local colleges, public forums and even a possible visit with the commandant of the Defense Language Institute, the very school that became the cornerstone of our careers as linguists.
Kongslie says the linguist community has been hit hard by DADT, resulting in hundreds of discharges over the years. “DLI has seen its fair share of witchhunts,” he says. “It’s our hope that we can help educate the community and build a strong foundation of support for LGB service members until DADT is finally repealed.”
Though the official lobby day has come to a close, you can still lobby virtually by calling the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 and telling your lawmakers to support repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.