CommunityPam's House Blend

Speeches at Servicemembers Legal Defense Network's 15th annual national dinner

[The speeches below represent planned remarks, not an exact transcript of the delivered presentation.]

Marine Captain Chuck Cisneros — Table of Honor Presentation

Ladies and gentlemen, please direct your attention to the small table next to the stage. Perhaps as you entered the hall tonight, you noticed this table, set for one, and located in a place of honor. The military is rich in custom, courtesy and tradition.  This table is our way of honoring the gay and lesbian service members that are not with us this evening.

We call them friends, brothers, and sisters.  They are also known as Prisoners of War and those Missing-in-Action.  We remember them for the sacrifices they have made.

The chair is empty for they are not here. The glass is inverted.  They cannot toast with us this night. The tablecloth is white, symbolizing the purity of their intentions to respond to our country’s call to arms. A slice of lemon is on the bread plate to remind us of their bitter fate. The salt is symbolic of the tears they shed as they wait.

The single rose reminds us of the families and loved ones who keep faith and await their return. The ribbon on the vase reminds us of the red ribbon worn upon the lapel and breast of thousands who bear witness to their devotion to duty and demand a proper accounting of our missing.

Remember, all of you who served with them and called them soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine.  You relied upon them and depended upon their might and aid.  They have not forgotten you.

Please join me in a moment of silence as we remember those who have paid the ultimate price.

***

Captain Joan E. Darrah, USN (Ret.) and Dinner Steering Committee Co-Chair David Crane introduce SLDN Executive Director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Dixon Osburn:

Darrah:  Good evening, and welcome to SLDN’s 15th national dinner.  Thank you for being part of SLDN’s work to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

We honor all of the veterans and service members here tonight. In addition, we want to extend a special thank you to their partners, family members and friends who are with us this evening. Your support is invaluable.  We salute you and thank you.

To the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members who are currently serving and have joined us this evening, know that you are not alone.  We honor you, we respect you, we value your service and we won’t give up until this fight is won!

Crane:  We want to thank our table captains and sponsors for their support.  Throughout the evening you will see their names on the screens behind us.  If you see a sponsor or table captain, please take a moment to show your appreciation for their commitment to SLDN.

We would also like to acknowledge our Patriot Circle members for their steadfast support.  And thank you to our volunteers – who made tonight run so smoothly.

Darrah: Finally, we want to give special recognition to our table captain chair, Chuck Cisneros, and our silent auction chair, Anson Harrison, for their hard work to make this evening possible.  And speaking of the silent auction, it will remain open until 9:20pm.  If you haven’t placed your bids, please remember to do so.  If you have, remember to check back and make sure that you haven’t been outbid.

Crane:  SLDN’s extraordinary work is made possible by a dedicated staff of professionals, led by executive director, Dixon Osburn.  Please join us in welcoming Dixon to the stage.

***

Remarks by SLDN Executive Director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Dixon Osburn

Good evening.  I am not a lesbian, but I play one on tv.  I want to welcome the fabulous cast and creator of The L Word who are in the House.  Do you like my Hugo Boss tux?  I am feeling a little Shane tonight.  Steve Ralls thought I should wear something by Donatella Versace.  Her new line – Donna Aska Donatella.

You know, apparently the most frightening thing in Baghdad is a gay man in a shower?  On The Daily Show, the head of the Family Research Council said he would rather be killed by a terrorist than suffer an uncomfortable moment with a gay.  Congressman Ackerman noted recently that all our enemies need to do is send in a platoon of lesbians and American troops would scurry.  Several years ago, the Air Force was developing a bomb that would turn our enemies gay by spraying them with pheromones.  Bomb.  Poof.  Madonna Rave party. 

This is all true.  Fact is stranger than fiction.  Which leads me to General Pace.  He said last week that that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is necessary because lesbians, gays and bisexuals are immoral.

As Dorothy Parker once said, “You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks.” 

Well, General Pace, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is immoral.  Kicking out Arabic linguists like Sergeant Bleu Copas in time of war is immoral.  Telling Sergeant Eric Alva, who received a purple heart after losing his leg in a landmine explosion in Baghdad, that he is not equal is immoral.  Discharging gay and lesbian service members because of their emails, diary entries, and communications with their doctors is immoral.  Denying college benefits and pensions because someone is kicked out for being gay is immoral.  Granting waivers to new recruits who have made terrorist threats, committed murder or kidnapping, but not letting qualified and capable gay Americans to serve is immoral. 

General Pace:  We are moral.  We are brave.  We are patriotic.  We are strong, courageous, honorable, loving, intelligent, spiritual and compassionate.

We shed blood for our country.

We raise children; care for our parents; and love our spouses.  We volunteer at our churches and synagogues.  We support the arts and the environment.  We fight for equality for all. 

Langston Hughes said it well in a title poem:  “I, Too, Sing America.”  “I, Too, Sing America.”

The reaction to General Pace’s comments was swift, strong and hopeful.

Senator John Warner, former Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said, “I respectfully but strongly disagree with the chairman’s view that homosexuality is immoral.”

Senator Alan Simpson, a former Republican Senator from Wyoming who voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” said in an op-ed last week, “As a lifelong Republican who served in the Army in Germany, I believe that it is critical that we review – and overturn – the ban on gay service in the military.”

Democratic Presidential candidates Clinton, Dodd, Edwards and Richardson all called for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  Secretary of Defense Gates distanced himself from the General’s moral screed.  Even a spokesperson for President Bush said that the President appreciated the sacrifice of all our men and women in uniform.

The tide is turning.  “I, Too, Sing America.”

According to a December Zogby poll, 73% of returning Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans say they are comfortable with gay Americans, up from 13% in 1993.

In the same poll, 23% say they knew someone who was openly gay within their unit, and it was a well known fact within the unit.  We have known this all along, but the ostriches with their heads in the sand have always tried to deny our presence.  That is changing, and it is changing minds.

In January, General Shalikashvili, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who supported “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1993, said in an op-ed in The New York Times in January that he now supports repeal of the ban.  He said, “Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job.”

“I, Too, Sing America.” 

The tide is turning and here is what SLDN is doing:

On February 28, Rep. Marty Meehan re-introduced the Military Readiness Enhancement Act with double the number of initial co-sponsors in the last session.  He was joined at the announcement by Republican Christopher Shays, BG Pat Foote, former Sergeant Brian Fricke, who served as an openly gay Marine in Iraq, and former Sergeant Eric Alva.  We now have 115 co-sponsors on the bill.  Congressman Meehan has announced that he will hold the first hearings on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” since the law was enacted in April or May.  We expect a companion bill in the Senate this year.  We plan to storm Capitol Hill this coming Monday with several hundred ground forces during our annual Lobby Day.  If you have not signed up, Uncle Dixon wants you! 

I would also like to acknowledge our allies at Log Cabin Republicans, People for the American Way, and the Human Rights Campaign for their lobbying assistance.  I want to thank Matt Foreman for getting arrested in New York City protesting at the recruiting station carrying a sign “Gays are Fabulous!”  I want to thank the important contributions of the Military Community Services Network, AVER, Soul Force, Military Equality Alliance, the Palm Center, USNA Out, SAGALA, PFLAG, and so many others.  As with any of our rights, it will take us all pulling together to win.

I do not want to create any illusion that the fight ahead is easy or forgone.  It will take hard work.  We do not intend to force a vote on the issue until we are sure the votes are there.  What is clear, though, is that the momentum is continuing to build, like water crashing over the falls.  It is not a matter of if “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will be repealed; it is just a matter of when.

It could happen in Congress.  It could also happen in the courts.  SLDN is continuing the fight in federal court.  On March 7, we had oral arguments in Cook v. Gates before the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.  We are co-counsel with the law firm of Wilmer Hale.  The case presents twelve amazing plaintiffs, kicked out for being gay, who simply seek reinstatement.  I want to thank Stuart Delery for his deft oral argument on our behalf and the entire team at Wilmer Hale. 

It is perhaps ironic that General Pace who thinks we are immoral may have sown the seeds for the ban’s ultimate demise.  The lawyers defending the ban have craftily argued that the ban is needed for military readiness.  General Pace let slip that illusion and showed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for what it really is – a law of rank discrimination which ultimately undermines our national security.

Military service has been connected to the rights and obligations of citizenship since the founding of our country.  The denial of military service and citizenship to African Americans led our country to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment which not only defines citizenship, but provides for due process and equal protection under the law.

We are equal.  We are noble.  We will win.  Courage.  Honor.  Victory.  e.e. cummings once said, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”  I salute each and every one of you.  “I, Too, Sing America.”

***

Patricia and Wally Kutteles (the parents of PFC Barry Winchell) — presentation of the Barry Winchell Courage Award, with remarks by this year’s award recipient, former Army Sergeant Bleu Copas. Copas:

[Speaking in Arabic with subtitles onscreen]: I stand before you speaking Arabic, which obviously makes me a member of the Axis of Evil.  I have surrendered to the temptations of “techno beat and a little back fat,” and become one of the ‘immoral’ ones.  The military could not condone my actions, but SLDN couldn’t afford anyone else, so they picked me.]

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your support. I want to especially thank Mrs. Kutteles and her family.  We will never forget your son.  He continues to inspire each of us to change the world and create a fair and just society.

I am humbled and honored to stand before you, and share with you my story, representing the voices of lesbian, gay and bisexual service members currently serving in silence. My story is just one of 65,000 stories of patriotism and selfless service. 

I was lucky enough to grow up in the foothills of Tennessee-notice where all the good crop comes from? ?myself, Brian Fricke, it goes on and on?My family was quite conservative, and taught me early the importance of honesty and integrity.  I have always remembered our preacher, an old Navy veteran, who inserted stories of honor and courage from the war into his sermons.  He spoke of changing the world, and I listened.

On September, 11, 2001, as I’m sure many of you did, I found myself trying to find a way to help, to make the world better.  My preacher, my dad, and a few of my uncles were all veterans who served our country with honor and courage.  I knew I was called to serve my country, too.  I knew about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, and, like many of you in this room tonight, I was willing to sacrifice whatever was needed-even if it meant living in silence for a few years.

I chose to be a linguist, and was shipped off to Fort Jackson, SC in 2002.  I was elated about going to the Defense Language Institute at the military’s own little paradise in Monterey, CA, but I was quickly shown that it would be no cakewalk to learn Arabic. 

Through all this hard work, my fellow soldiers and I became a family. The two years it took us to finish training brought us all very close; there wasn’t any room for secrecy.  Although I never outright told anyone that I was gay, I never denied their assumptions.  They figured it out; they were MI, after all.  It was easy to figure out-all my dates to the military balls were platonic friends, and of course, they knew I spent a lot of my evenings on the wharf at Monterey’s Community Theatre!

It didn’t matter to them, though.  In fact, when I broke my leg playing intramural soccer for my company, my buddies (all straight) had to get me in and out of the shower-NAKED, and it worked, I got clean, and the Army didn’t fall apart!!

The next chapter of my career took me to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, NC.  AIRBORNE—-(audience) ALL THE WAY!! My unit’s rotation schedule didn’t have us deploying to the desert for another year or so, so I decided to fight the boredom in the Division’s All-American Chorus.  Out of 200 individuals in our battalion, I was the one selected by my commanders to represent the unit on a temporary assignment with the Chorus. While continuing to maintain my Arabic language skills, I sang with this esteemed group of men.  I was able to do the job, and do it well.  It didn’t matter that I was gay. 

But it mattered to someone.  After a few months with the Chorus, someone started emailing the leaders to tell them there was a gay soldier in their midst.  When the Chorus leaders told us about the email, my throat knotted up, my head was spinning, and my stomach switched places with my heart.  They asked if any of us was gay; they wanted the gay soldier to come forward.

After pulling them aside to correct  them in their attempt to address the situation, I was asked directly if I were gay. I denied it at the time.  I was scared to death.

I had heard of SLDN from a friend who had called for help.  I remember calling and being afraid initially that the military would find records of my calls to SLDN, and that they would use those record to incriminate me.  I was still pretty scared.

I was in contact with SLDN almost daily to discuss the newest information on my case; perhaps more importantly, I called to hear a friendly, supporting voice, I called knowing that someone at the end of the line would listen to me.  I believed in my heart that this would all go away, and that I would be able to continue my dream of serving my country.  I didn’t tell anyone what was going on because I thought they didn’t need to stress about it.  God knows, I was stressing enough.  I would not have survived emotionally without the folks at SLDN.

In the end, the Army’s investigators were so inconsistent in adhering to the law, that I decided, at SLDN’s advice, to cut my losses, and use another venue to fight our cause. 

It is important to mention what my commander said to me as I was out-processing, “This is the last thing I ever wanted to do in my Army career, I am not proud.”

All of this shows that the policy doesn’t work anymore, and doesn’t make our country stronger.  It shows that the policy is founded upon the irrational fears of people like Gen. Pace-fears that I may just sneak in and “intromiss” some sleeping soldier in the barracks.

The Army’s Seven Core Values include Respect, Honor, and Integrity.  Those Core Values directly contradict the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Law: it forces the men and women of our armed forces to lie about who they are. I’ve had enough. 

We will not remain silent any longer.  We will not stop until the ban is lifted.

If a scrawny, little poor boy from the foothills of Tennessee can stick to his dream, and help create change in the world, so can you.

There is an Arabic proverb that says [Arabic: Unity is power.]  Let us unite and work to lift the ban.

***

SLDN client and former Navy Lieutenant General Junior Grade Jen Kopfstein introduces clips from The L Word.

Good evening.  My name is Jen Kopfstein, and I am here tonight to present the Randy Shilts Visibility Award to the L Word, a Showtime series depicting the lives and loves of a group of lesbians in Los Angeles.  They are just like us, only better looking.

This season, the L Word writers penned the story of Tasha, a lesbian Army National Guardsman who has returned from duty in Iraq. Tasha brings a unique perspective on the war, fueled by her sense of patriotism and duty, and speaks passionately about the difference between politics and service, challenging her friends’ perspective about the armed forces.

I’m thrilled the L Word has given us all a character we can relate to.  The L Word’s commitment to presenting an accurate portrayal of lesbian military personnel is important, groundbreaking, and just plain a lot of fun to watch.

I asked one of my friends in the Marine Corps, who lives in South Carolina, what she thought of Tasha and the L Word, and she said, “Well, I live in a place where most gays and lesbians are hidden or closeted in some way.  It’s always great to know that my sisters in LA are happy and getting laid.”

The importance of calling attention to this issue can’t be overstated.  “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is legalized discrimination, and calling attention to that fact by showing the world, a strong, professional military officer, who also happens to be a lesbian, is a service both to our community, and to our nation. 

We now have some clips from the L Word to show you this evening, in case you haven’t seen enough of the lovely Tasha.

[L Word creator Ilene Chaiken is introduced, along with actresses Cybill Shepherd, Pam Grier and Marlee Matlin]

***


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