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West Point grads form gay support group

West Point grads form gay support group

By William H. McMichael – Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Mar 18, 2009 6:30:25 EDT


Thirty-eight graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., came out of the closet Monday with an offer to help their alma mater educate future Army leaders on the need to accept and honor the sacrifices of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender troops.

“Knights Out” wants to serve as a connection between gay troops and Army administrators, particularly at West Point, to provide an “open forum” for communication between gay West Point graduates and their fellow alumni and to serve in an advisory role for West Point leaders in the eventuality — which the group believes is both “imminent and inevitable” — that the law and policy collectively known as “don’t ask, don’t tell” are repealed by Congress.

“We’re publicly announcing our sexuality, our orientation,” said 1st Lt. Dan Choi, a National Guardsman with the 1st Bn., 69th Infantry, based in Manhattan. “It’s just one part of who we are in saying that we are standing to be counted.”

In forming Knights Out, its 38 members are following the example of similar support and education groups formed by graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy and U.S. Air Force Academy, known respectively as USNA Out and Blue Alliance. Most if not all of these groups’ members also belong to the Service Academy Gay and Lesbian Alumni social network, a group that Knights Out claims includes some active-duty commanders serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Choi, a Korean by descent, is a combat veteran of Iraq who graduated from West Point in 2003 with a degree in Arabic language. He said his unit is aware that he’s a homosexual and added, “I’m very comfortable with all the repercussions right now. To me, it’s about doing the right thing, not about trying to fit into the process that gets you the rank or prevents you from getting a discharge.

“If that’s the repercussion, I’m ready to take it,” he said. “I think it’s more important that I let everybody know that … it is a wrong policy.”

Choi said the group has contacted West Point leadership and gotten “a very warm response.” An academy spokesman couldn’t confirm that assertion, noting that today was the first day of West Point’s spring break and that the campus was nearly empty.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” was implemented by Congress in 1993 and signed by President Bill Clinton. The law prescribes discharge as the remedy for gay service members who do not remain quiet about their sexuality or do not remain celibate.

Groups such as the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network actively lobby for its repeal, saying the policy is discriminatory and robs the military of critical skills. The Center for Military Readiness just as actively lobbies to keep the policy intact, arguing that a reversal “would impose new, unneeded burdens of sexual tension” on the military. SLDN says that more than 12,500 men and women have been discharged under the policy since its implementation in 1994.

During the election campaign, President Barack Obama said he would work to end the law. In January, presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs confirmed that Obama wants to do so but indicated any such effort will take a back seat to the struggling economy and other issues.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., recently introduced legislation in Congress that would repeal the law. The next day, White House Spokesman Tommy Vietor said the president has begun consulting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen “so that this change is done in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and national security.”

Another Democrat, Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia, has asked the military for a monthly report on don’t ask, don’t tell discharges. Moran announced Monday that the Army discharged 11 gay soldiers in January.

“At a time when our military’s readiness is strained to the breaking point from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the armed forces continue to discharge vital service members under the outdated, outmoded don’t ask, don’t tell policy,” Moran said. “Our allies have overcome this issue, facing no adverse consequences from lifting bans focused on soldiers’ sexual orientation.

“Polls show the American people overwhelmingly support repealing this policy,” Moran continued. “Yet, how many more good soldiers are we willing to lose due to a bad policy that makes us less safe and secure?”

In January, among the fired were one human intelligence collector, one military police officer, four infantrymen, one health care specialist, one motor transport operator and one water treatment specialist, he said.

Moran, a long-time opponent of the military gay ban, is a co-sponsor of Tauscher’s Military Readiness Enhancement Act (HR 1283).

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