Saturday, September 17, 2011

DADT Repeal Countdown: Day 3

Today's historical reminder in the fight for gays in the military takes us back 35 years as of this month, to the remarkable story and struggle of Staff Sergeant Robert LeBlanc, a decorated Vietnam war vet who served the Marines with such bravery and excellence that that he received a Navy Commendation Medal for his brave actions:

NAVAL COMMENDATION MEDAL CITATION—“WITH COMPLETE DISREGARD FOR HIS OWN SAFETY, CORPORAL LeBLANC FEARLESSLY RUSHED INTO THE HAZARDOUS AREA….HIS HEROIC & TIMELY ACTIONS INSPIRED ALL WHO OBSERVED HIM….BY HIS COURAGE, BOLD INITIATIVE, & STEADFAST DEVOTION TO DUTY IN THE FACE OF GREAT PERSONAL DANGER, CORPORAL LeBLANC UPHELD THE FINEST TRADITIONS OF THE MARINE CORPS & OF THE UNITED STATES NAVAL SERVICE .”
This American hero, however, had to fight, after his 17 years of service, to keep an honorable discharge after his men reported that he might be gay.

Michael Bedwell writes:
Administrative discharge boards had voted twice to retain him when no evidence was submitted that he was gay other than claims by men LeBlanc had disciplined as a narcotics enforcement officer with the MPs. When asked directly if he was gay, LeBlanc told his superiors and the boards, “You have no right to ask the question!”—the kind of response the military does not like to hear. Despite all of Robert's medals, despite his repeatedly risking his life for his country and his fellow Marines, despite his having "upheld the finest traditions of the Corps," Gen. Louis H. Wilson, then-Commandant of the Marines, insisted that the accusations alone were adequate proof he was unsuitable, and ordered him discharged with the less-than-honorable designation which limits the kind of benefits a veteran can receive—most importantly, access to Veteran's Administration medical care. The local MCC organized a then-rare-military-related protest of his treatment outside the gates of Marine Barracks, Terminal Island, Long Beach, California.
Robert LeBlanc fought his less-than-honorable designation until Anthony Kennedy, who now serves on the Supreme Court, ordered the Marines to either give him his honorable discharge or retain him until the matter could be brought to trial.  The Marines chose to discharge him honorably rather than keep him in the military.

General Wilson, as a result of the court case, had this to say to People Magazine:
“If we discover a man is a homosexual we'll discharge him, because it's simply a morale factor that we can't have. If laws are passed that allow homosexuals in, then we'll negotiate.”
Unfortunately for the General Wilsons of today, when laws are passed, there is no negotiation.  The military does what it is told to do.  Holding the rights of soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen hostage through disobedience of lawful directives simply isn't an option.  That doesn't keep some lawmakers, however, from attempting to stall DADT repeal by requesting additional study on the issue just days before repeal is to happen:
Today, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) released the following statement in response to a letter issued by House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) asking for a delay of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) repeal, set for September 20, 2011: 
“This is another example of the hardcore opposition attempting to delay or undo ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal. I expect they will continue to look for openings to deny gay and lesbian service members the same rights and dignity as their straight counterparts,” said Army veteran and SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis. “On the substance, Mr. McKeon and Mr. Wilson are simply wrong. The statute only requires that the new regulations be prepared – not issued – before certification.”
I have never been happier to say:  Too late, guys.  It's happening on midnight, September 20th.  Even though some crackpot politicians have hinted at reinstating DADT, I highly doubt it will happen.  I look forward to the day that every LGB, and yes, T, soldier doesn't have to fear the sort of scrutiny and dishonorable treatment Robert LeBlanc was subjected to so long ago.  Because much like his court victory 35 years ago this month, we're winning, and complete victory can't be that far away.


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