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Live-Blogging the SLDN National Dinner: SLDN Making History

It truly has been a wonderful event to cover and truly worth the celebration.  The men and women who’ve risked so much to make is night possible from Bleu Copas, LT. Col Victor Frerenbach, Justin Crocket Elzie, Eric Alva, Brian Fricke, Darren Manzella and the thousands of others, many of whom were here in attendance tonight.  Congratulations!  As we move forwards to bringing full equality for all Americans we press on the in the fight.

Thank you, SLDN and Pam for giving me this wonderful opportunity!

10:30:  Chris Matthews closes out and gives the final speech.

Tonight has been special in many ways, a wonderful celebration. Several of you are pioneers in the movement for equality that spans generations of military service. You have defended our country and have seen first-hand why “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – what came before – is discriminatory and un-American. Your lives are a testament to courage and conviction, and without your heroism we would never have come this far.


When repeal was signed into law last December, our country came closer to liberty and justice. In that great moment, we rose above the fear and ignorance of the past to welcome a future of hope and greater inclusion. In a time of national uncertainty and division, our leaders listened to the will of the American people and showed the world that out of many, we are still one.


However, the fight to ensure that no service member is treated without full respect is far from over. Opponents of open service have not given up, so you too must remain engaged. You still have many battles ahead as you work toward full equality for all our brothers and sisters in uniform.


I am inspired by the sacrifice and patriotism of the countless individuals who have led the fight for equality through the years, whether as veterans, active duty, advocates, or elected officials. They have shown us our country can answer the call to equal opportunity. Tonight, we draw on their resilience to keep moving on the long path to justice for all service members, for all Americans.

9:53: The air here tonite is very celebratory.  After a touching video presentation describing e beginnings of DADT and the recent timeline of events that led to repeal Aubrey Sarvis takes the stage.

Thank you.  Thank you and congratulations-for making it possible to stand on the brink of this huge victory for gay and lesbian service members.  Years ago you recognized how important it was to defend and speak for those service members who could not always speak or act for themselves.

And now flag officers acknowledge that gay and lesbian troops are serving among them, are serving with distinction, and have always been there. That, in itself, is a tremendous victory. These generals and admirals-and members of the House and Senate too, as well as the President of the United States-are saying this now because you fought hard and never gave up.  It WOULD not, COULD not have happened without you. I am in awe of what you have achieved, humbled by your sacrifice and generosity, and honored to serve with you.

Each of us in this beautiful hall tonight stands on the shoulders of others. Nearly 19 years ago Michelle Benecke and Dixon Osborne had the foresight and courage to establish SLDN.  These young visionaries came together to create the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network- to focus solely on helping LGBT troops when they needed help the most.  Michelle and Dixon, please stand so we can show our appreciation for your vision, your tenacity, and your hard work.  Let’s hear it for Dixon and Michelle!

In Vietnam, Korea, World War Two, and World War One, THOUSANDS were drummed out because they were gay-humiliated, often treated like criminals, and denied honorable discharges. There was no SLDN around to help.  Ask Melvin Dwork. He was thrown in the brig in World War II for being honest about WHO he was – and then he was discharged for being WHAT he was: Gay. At 89, Melvin is our oldest client, but he is among our youngest at heart.  The youngest SLDN client is only 18, and he is under investigation this week for violating Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Tonight we celebrate, and rightly so. But is our work over? Can we finally move on?  YOU know, and I know, and CERTAINLY our 18-year-old client knows that this fight is not over.

The work of SLDN, the work we are doing together, will not be finished until Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been repealed and open service is proceeding smoothly and no more 18-year-olds need our help.

Our work is not done until legally married service members receive the same benefits and family support that their straight married comrades receive.

Our work is not done as long as federal statutes prevent pay parity.

Our work IS DONE ONLY when lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender service members, willing to serve and fight and die for this country, are treated equally under the law. That day has not yet arrived.

So we will continue to help former service members kicked out under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell who want their old jobs back, service members like Air Force Major Mike Almy, who is seeking to serve our country again.  SLDN will go to court when necessary and we will STILL be here-a day-to-day legal lifeline for service members-as the transition to open service finally goes ahead.

That transition will require close oversight FROM THE OUTSIDE to ensure it is quickly and properly executed by the services. SLDN will closely monitor the implementation of open service, and will take action if that implementation falls short.  SLDN will keep urging the President to issue an executive order prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in the armed forces. 

In the fight for equality, the United States military has led the way before. They are rightly proud of their vital role in helping end segregation.  With SLDN’s active oversight-and litigation and prodding when needed-I am confident that our armed forces will lead on this front as well.

So we are CLOSE, but THE JOB is not done yet. We must FINISH this critically important work. We must get it right before we rush to move on, AND IT IS NOT YET RIGHT.  Until that day comes, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender troops will continue to need you and to need SLDN.

And until then, as Winston Churchill once said, “We will never, never, never, NEVER give up.”

Thank you.

9:38: Barney Frank is speaking now in his typical fashion.  Gruff. To the point.

9:34: Chris Matthews is telling a little bit of the tragic history of “Don’t ask, don’t tell”

That was fantastic! Thank you very much, Rock Creek Singers, let’s give them a hand!

Folks, we celebrate tonight, but we also look back at our history and remember why we are here and who we are fighting for. On October 27, 1992, former Naval Petty Officer Allen Schindler was murdered because he was gay. Allen’s mother, Dorothy Clausen, could only identify her son’s body by his tattoos. The killing of this much loved young man renewed the debate to get rid of the regulatory gay ban, and Allen’s death became a defining moment in the transition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

Five and a half years after Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was enacted, on July 5, 1999, Army Private First Class Barry Winchell was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat as he lay sleeping in his barracks, he was only 21 years old. One of his attackers had started rumors that Barry was gay. Barry did not report the harassment this rumor caused, out of fear he would be kicked out under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. Both Allen’s mother, Dorothy, and Barry’s mother, Pat Kutelles, have made repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell their goal. They are both with us here tonight. Please let’s take a moment to recognize them both and honor their courage, service and mourn their loss.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, here is a man who never needs a long introduction. Please welcome your friend and mine, Representative Barney Frank.

An aside.  I’d like to thank David Hall for making sure I was able to do this tonight.  Due to a mistake on my part he’s letting me borrow his iPad to bring this to you.

8:45:  The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington’s Rock Creek Singers has just finished up a beautiful set of songs to help commemorate this special event.  Dinner is being served so the next updates should be in about an hour.  By then hopefully we’ll have some video up of the Chorus.

Update: video

8:19: Representativae Steny Hoyer is speaking now and reading a letter from one of his constituents.

He’s taking abut all we’ve lost under “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” and how proud he is of all that we’ve accomplished together.  He’s giving special recognition to his staff.

8:12: Representative Patrick Murphy just gave a personal speech talking about his efforts to repeal DADT and the personal letter he received from a gay soldier in the field contemplating suicide.

What an honor to stand before such an amazing group tonight. As I look out and see so many heroes of the repeal movement – veterans, active-duty service members, legislators, advocates and everyday Americans – I am reminded that this truly is your moment. We are close to ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and we did it together!


Your passion for equality inspired me to do what’s right for all service members – gay and straight. When I served in Iraq, I was proud to fight alongside my gay and lesbian comrades to defend freedom. The battlefield knows no sexual orientation, race, gender, or creed. Bravery, love for country and the core military values of honesty and integrity are what matter because they are what make us one.


My good friend Joe Lieberman understands what a majority of Americans have long known: No one who is willing to risk his or life should be denied the opportunity to serve our country.


As you will see, Joe’s belief in the promise of liberty and justice for all is what drives him to make America a better place. His determination to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a true profile in courage.


Ladies and gentlemen, here’s a special message from Joe Lieberman.

7:48: Sitting here at the blogger’s table that SLDN has graciously set up for me in the beautiful National Building Museum.

8:03:  Chris Matthews is announcing the following people as recognized guests of SLDN

Representative Steny Hoyer  


Representative Barney Frank


Representative Chellie Pingree

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, Doug Wilson

Deputy Under Secretary of the Navy, Eric Fanning

Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, Brian Bond

Colorado State Democratic Chairman, Rick Palacio

He also announced some of the supporting organizations including HRC, GetEqual, and “the somewhat conflicted” Log Cabin Republicans.