By Mark Segal
There are 2.7-million active servicemembers and reservists in the U.S. military. For debate purposes, let’s say 5-percent (use whatever figure you wish here) are gay, lesbian or bisexual and come under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” If every one were discharged, that’s 135,000 possible casualties of the military’s ban on openly gay servicemembers.
Now, let me give you another number. The U.S. population is about 300 million. Let’s use that same 5 percent figure for the LGBT community and do the math — presto, you have a figure of about 15 million LGBT U.S. citizens. Now, 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed nondiscrimination laws, meaning that 29 states give no job protection to LGBT workers. Given population stats, let’s say that translates to about 50 percent of the U.S. population. Take that 15 million and divide in half, and we now know that 7.5 million LGBT U.S. citizens have no job protection against discrimination.
Now, we could go state by state and attempt to give job security to our community that way, but guess what? There are states that will not protect our citizens, and therefore we need the national law. We’re not the first community that came to that conclusion. In the 1960s, the black civil-rights movement understood this, and it resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, then the National Voting Rights Act of 1965.
So we have the facts, we have the figures: How do we proceed? Once again, it’s time for us to be creative.
The pending Employment Non-Discrimination Act legislation has a section that specifically exempts “members of the Armed Forces.”
So, we remove this section, or we change the wording; maybe: “The President will confer with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Congress regarding “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The legislation is passed and the president signs it and adds a signing statement, such as, “It is my understanding that this includes the U.S. military and voids ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’” You read that right. The president can keep his promise to repeal the ban and we can end both forms of discrimination in one bill.
Doing it this way will give the moderates who want to vote for nondiscrimination but not repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” a way to do that. It all falls on the shoulders of the president. It’s completely legal and done with a wink and a nod. Also, Washington appreciates a move like this: It lets so many off the hook. They get to say to their constituents — either us or the right wing — they were for it, but not for the other half. They can’t lose.
So whatever your position or priority is, it’s time to do the math and strategize on how to take action. You can yell all you want, but passing legislation takes planning, strategy and knowing your priorities, and most of all, knowing how to count the votes you need to achieve them.
One last thought. I’m not willing to wait seven years for this work to be completed. If the White House and HRC won’t give a deadline, then we should. Maybe three years is an appropriate deadline since we’ll have to decide by then whether to vote or just sit on our hands. n
Mark Segal is the former President of both the National Gay Newspaper Guild and the National Gay Press association. He served on the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Publishers associate and is on boards at Suburban newspapers of America. He is the longest serving member of the LGBT press celebrating 34 years as publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News.