Outlaw Sponsors Don't Ask, Don't Tell Discussion
by Jesse Berglund
Professor Melissa Embser-Herbert
With the 2006 mid-term elections past, and a change in
leadership in the House and Senate, an unlikely victor may be the effort to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the policy to prevent gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. On November 15, Outlaw, the Law School's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender group sponsored an event to highlight the efforts to lobby Congress in order to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly, bringing in Mr. Ken Sholes, who aids the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network’s (SLDN) lobbying efforts, and Professor Melissa Embser-Herbert
, chair of the Department of Sociology at Hamline University, who has published numerous works on gays in the military including a soon-to-be-published book, The U.S. Military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy: A Reference Handbook
Ken Sholes served in the U.S. Navy from 1968 to 1972, leaving the Navy after revealing his sexuality. Now, he lobbies for repeal of the ban which was codified into law in 1993, with the “compromise” Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy. His experiences at the Capitol have been mixed. He expresses optimism with the introduction of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act in the House in 2005 sponsored by Congressman Marty Meehan (D-MA), but there are still many obstacles before it can be passed into law. While the bill has attained 122 co-sponsors from both parties in the House, a companion bill has not yet been introduced in the Senate, and there is less certainty that President Bush would even sign the bill should it cross his desk. Still, with the Democrats set to control Congress, the bill may finally get a hearing. That is why SLDN needs support in its lobbying efforts this spring.
Professor Embser-Herbert has a similar portrayal of the situation in Washington. She served in the U.S. Army and Army Reserve from 1978-2000. Her experiences lobbying for change to the policy demonstrate the strong resistance many members of Congress present. While some in Congress offer open support, many others only nod, but offer no inclination to join the efforts to change the policy. Others offer open hostility, according to Professor Embser-Herbert, as she recalls a senior Senator disputing the nature of her experiences as a lesbian in the armed forces.
The issue of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is important for the Law School, because every fall, the Law School must allow military recruiters to conduct interviews. The Solomon Amendment would take away all government funding from the University of Minnesota should the Law School refuse to allow access to military recruiters. The Solomon Amendment was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last spring in FAIR v. Rumsfeld. Since then, Outlaw has expressed its opposition to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell by tabling on the days recruiters are present, and conducting programming aimed at educating the University community on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.