How has the LGBT community reacted to the President’s one-line call for the repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy? I would call the reaction positive but mixed.

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network issued a statement applauding the president’s remarks, calling for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“We very much need a sense of urgency to get this done in 2010,” said the group. “We call on the President to repeal the archaic 1993 law in his defense budget currently now being drafted, that is probably the only and best moving bill where DADT can be killed this year. “ The group also said that both “more attention and leadership” are needed to win repeal.”

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese posted a statement saying the president sent “a clear message” against the policy and adding, as did Servicemembers Legal, that the issue “will required continued leadership” from President Obama and Congressional allies.

But other reaction was more than guarded.

Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, issued a statement saying “We have heard promises before about ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’” While Cathcart said Lambda was happy to hear President Obama’s remark, he added that “the time has finally come to fulfill that promise.”

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said “the time for broad statements is over.”

“He must provide a concrete blueprint for his leadership and action moving forward—this includes his willingness to stop the discharges happening on his watch until Congress can fulfill its responsibility to overturn the law.”

Asked about the timeline for the policy by Rachel Maddow, Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett said he would “begin the process right away”. That would seem to signal that it would be included in the President’s budget in the defense authorization section. The DADT policy actually has a net cost to the bottom line for a variety of reasons, so there’s a minimal savings attached to it.

John Aravosis, one of the leaders in the community and one of the most critical of Obama’s LGBT policies so far in his Presidency, was fairly happy with the policy announcement. He said that using the word “repeal” and not “change” was important, as was the vow to repeal this year, which suggests a timeline.

Look, I’m not letting the man off the hook. It’s not been a great year for gay civil rights, or for the President’s relations with our community. But if he says he’s going to work with congress and the military to repeal DADT this year, I say we take him at his word, offer to help, and by time Congress goes out of session this year, probably by early October since the elections are in November, we’d better have a repeal just as the President promised.

Now he’s on the clock.

Already, Obama is facing pushback from Congress. John McCain, his foe in the 2008 Presidential election and the ranking member of the relevant committee (Armed Services), released a statement calling repeal a “mistake.” He said that the policy has been successful, “well understood and predominantly supported by our military at all levels.”

Rep. Joe Sestak, the highest-ranking member of the military ever to serve in Congress, begged to differ in his statement, directly reacting to McCain’s words:

“As the senior ranking military Veteran in Congress, I am compelled to respond to Sen. McCain’s opposition to President Obama’s commitment to allowing all American troops to serve their country openly and honestly. How can a policy that has dismissed more than 13,000 trained, able, and honorable American servicemembers — including upwards of 800 troops with “mission critical” skills, like Arab linguists — be viewed as successful?

“Especially in a time of war, when our military is overstretched and our troops and their families are under unprecedented strain, we cannot afford to lose any more troops that the American people depend on for our national security. I agree with Sen. McCain that our military is the best in the world and the best in our nation’s history. That’s precisely why I have faith in the leadership capabilities of our officer corps and non-commissioned officers, as well as the dedication, professionalism, and integrity of our troops, to handle this transition without detriment to readiness or capability.

“The men and women who wear the cloth of this nation should be entitled to the rights they so heroically defend.”

And here’s the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili:

“Studies have shown that three-quarters of service members say they are personally comfortable around gays and lesbians. Two-thirds say they already know or suspect gay people in their units. This raises important questions about the assertion that openly gay service would impair the military. In fact, it shows that gays and lesbians in the military have already been accepted by the average soldier.

“Additionally, at least twenty-five foreign militaries now let gays serve openly, including our closest ally, Britain. Although we lead rather than follow these militaries, there is no evidence suggesting that our troops cannot effectively carry out the same policy change as those nations did.

“In 2008, a bi-partisan panel of retired General and Flag officers carefully reviewed this matter for a year and concluded that repeal would not pose a risk to the military’s high standards of morale, discipline, cohesion, recruitment, or retention. Interestingly, an increasing number of active-duty officers who have reviewed “don’t ask, don’t tell” indicate that the policy, not the presence of gays, is detrimental to the armed forces’ need for skilled personnel who are able to serve without compromising their integrity and, by extension, that of the armed forces as a whole.

“As a nation built on the principal of equality, we should recognize and welcome change that will build a stronger more cohesive military. It is time to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” and allow our military leaders to create policy that holds our service members to a single standard of conduct and discipline.”

These calls by these military leaders should be the driving force behind the push to change the policy. It’s well beyond time to get it done.

UPDATE: The uniformed military in attendance, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pointedly did not applaud the call for repeal. They are not required to stay silent like that.

David Dayen

David Dayen

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