What the President said tonight about DADT (from the remarks as prepared for delivery):

Abroad, America’s greatest source of strength has always been our ideals.  The same is true at home.  We find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution:  the notion that we are all created equal, that no matter who you are or what you look like, if you abide by the law you should be protected by it; that if you adhere to our common values you should be treated no different than anyone else.  

We must continually renew this promise.  My Administration has a Civil Rights Division that is once again prosecuting civil rights violations and employment discrimination.  We finally strengthened our laws to protect against crimes driven by hate.  This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.

No Change Announced on DADT in the State of the Union Address

Obama Continues Talks with Pentagon Chiefs to Reverse Law

by Tanya Domi, special correspondent for Pam’s House Blend

Robert Gibbs, the White House Press Secretary indicated earlier today during an on-the-record background briefing about President Obama’s State of the Union address to be delivered before Congress tonight that the president would not signal a change in policy about the current Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, which prohibits openly gay, lesbian or bi-sexual military members from serving openly in the military.

Instead, he said that Obama would reiterate that he ” will continue to work broadly with the military to reverse the law while reiterating his past support for LGBT rights [evidenced] in his support of the hate crimes law” that was passed by Congress last fall.  Obama signed the Matthew Shephard and James Byrd Jr. Hates Crimes Act into law last year, whose expansion included a victim’s gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability, after many years of advocacy by LGBT groups and their allies.

Our community, including any Democratic voter who supported you in November 2008 would expect you to sign a hate crimes act into law.  This is a given by any Democratic president and surely those inside the Beltway would call signing a hate crimes bill as “low hanging fruit.”

And yet the President once again throws out a few crumbs to our community, announcing to the entire country that there will be no reversal to a discriminatory law for the time being that continues to place our sisters and brethren in harms’ way, for more than simply serving in wars, as tragic and dangerous as they are.

This is the change we have been waiting for?  Where is the fierce urgency of now, Mr. President?  Don’t you hear that trumpet of justice pounding in your ears when military bands play ‘Hail to the Chief’?

Well fortunately, not everyone agrees with the endless delay tactics of the White House.  Early this morning, U.S. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) issued a press release entitled “In Message to Pentagon Leadership, Gillibrand, former Joint Chiefs Chairman Say It’s Time to Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (posted by Pam’s House Blend below).” Gillibrand said that John Shalikashvilli, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had joined her in opposition to the continuance of DADT, reiterating his condemnation of the discriminatory law, citing Army Secretary John McHugh (a Republican), who recently said that “The Army has a big history of taking on similar issues [with]…predictions of doom and gloom that did not play out.”

Indeed, McHugh’s statement is so true as evidenced in the once controversial issue of women in combat.  Historically, Army leadership predicted allowing women to serve in combat would create all kinds of problems for units at war.  With the change in combat dynamics since the first Persian Gulf War, the classic battlefield no longer exists.  Soldiers can be attacked anywhere.  Now the Army is so concerned about losing any soldier (except gays)–including women soldiers, a general staff officer in Iraq felt compelled to threaten to court-martial any woman soldier who became pregnant in the U.S. Central Command theatre.  His threat was “clarified’ by the Pentagon and reversed, when public outcry lambasted the Army for an idiotic and clumsy attempt to maintain good morale and order.  But I digress.

I might add that the White House has also exhibited some silly and confusing tactics reported broadly by the media earlier this week when an unnamed Pentagon official asked U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee not to hold pre-planned hearings on DADT before Obama delivered his the State of the Union address.  Levin told The New York Times “that the Pentagon didn’t “want to be put in a position of discussing or defending a policy that the White House might abandon”.  But more importantly Levin said that the president was expected to state the policy during his speech to Congress.

What was that all about?  One of my favorite sayings is that “communication is a miracle”.  In this context, effective communication is more than a miracle.  It seems that the White House, i.e. Obama, is negotiating with the Joint Chiefs over changing DADT, before his legislative liaisons are speaking with the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. Aren’t these tactics shades of Bill Clinton, which produced the DADT law?

The last time I checked, the POTUS is the Commander-in-Chief and the Joint Chiefs report to Obama.  While the Chiefs are political, at the end of the day changing this reprehensible law is a matter of leadership and political will that must come from President Obama himself and expressed to the Congress in word and deed.  Our community is still waiting for President Obama to lead.

We are not inspired by what we have witnessed thus far from the Obama Administration and the president’s exultations asking us to trust him because in the end, somewhere down the road, we will like what he has done on our behalf. Tonight’s State of the Union address was another wasted opportunity by President Obama to exhibit wise leadership that could have been used to educate the American public about why DADT is incompatible with our core values of dignity and respect for our fellow citizens and why we must extend these opportunities to gays to serve openly in the military.  He could have talked about treating some Americans differently, their differences making them less than other Americans and when this happens we trample on every ideal this nation has ever espoused about freedom.

We can hope, but we will not be silent, as Harvey Milk once said.  And that is a promise we will make to you tonight Mr. President, as our calls for justice will increase with volume and ferocity until you finally pick up the baton and become president of all the people.  

Tanya Domi is a former U.S. Army Captain and served 15 years, enlisting as a Private before leaving the Army honorably as a Captain in 1990.  Domi teaches human rights at Columbia University as an adjunct professor of international and public affairs and lives in the City of New York. 

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding