HRC Blog

Two Views from Veterans Lobby Day

The following posts offer perspectives from veterans who traveled to last week's Lobby Day to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  The first comes from HRC's Cassie Fleming, who accompanied Nebraska veterans to their visits on the Hill: Nebraska veterans traveled from the Heartland to the nation’s capital early this week to lobby their elected officials to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The group included gay and straight veterans of all ages, from some who just returned from tours in Iraq to others who served more than two decades ago for as many as 22 years. Crisscrossing Capitol Hill in the rain on Tuesday, the veterans met with aids to Reps. Lee Terry and Jeff Fortenberry, both R-Neb., and with Senators Mike Johanns, R-Neb, and Ben Nelson, D-Neb. The Nebraska veterans’ experiences were highlighted in both local and national media. Read the stories here and here. The veterans shared stories of the impact that DADT has had on their careers and lives. Matt Klang of Omaha told Senator Johanns of his family’s military experience:

“My father served for 27 years, and my grandfather served for 35 years. I joined the military to follow in their footsteps, but I left in 2003 due to the uncertainties of serving under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

  They told powerful stories that illustrated the stress of serving under DADT as a gay or lesbian servicemember or how being straight did not shield them from experiencing the disruption to unit cohesion DADT causes. Kim McCoy, who recently served in the Air Force and toured Iraq, said:

“I was withdrawn for the majority of my enlistment to avoid being asked about my social life. The stress of having that fear every day was very hard.”

The veterans left their meeting with Sen. Nelson feeling optimistic about the visit. Nelson is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and one of the HRC’s chief Senate priorities. Nelson said he wants to see the results of the Pentagon study due out at the end of the year before he takes a position. The veterans advised him to vote this year to repeal DADT, emphasizing the urgency in repealing the law and highlighting how the policy compromises national security. The veterans were part of the 350 total veterans from across the country who arrived at Capitol Hill on Tuesday as part of the National Veterans Lobby Day, which was sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, Servicemembers United and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

The second post comes from New Jersey veteran Catherine Revak: Thank you SO much HRC for guiding my first experience on the hill. You have awoken my sleeping giant within. I am member of HRC, prior to this I had given only my money, after this I will give much of my time. I am forever changed by my experience. When I was invited to Veterans Lobby Day, I did not quite understand the magnitude of what was about to happen. I was expecting a much more "typical" experience – a few greetings from some members, and maybe a rally followed by a cocktail hour. I was pleasantly surprised. To be there and hear other veterans’ experiences, was heart wrenching. As I explained to my Senators and members of Congress from New Jersey, I come from a long line of veterans on both sides of my family. My father is a Marine and his father was in the Army. They erected a flagpole in my backyard when I was child. My father would raise the flag every morning, and my brothers and I would fold every night. It was instilled in me what the flag means; freedom for ALL, how lucky I was to be an American, to be grateful to those before me who made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that I would have every freedom, and every dream was possible as long as I could imagine them. To join while still in high school, was not only steeped in family tradition but merely an honor to give back. The opportunity to talk to my Representatives and their staffs and tell our stories, to discuss the issues, to know that my opinions were being listened to, to see the ins and outs of how our government works, to feel valued by my representatives, to watch them taking notes on my words, it was nothing shy of amazing. I can’t begin to convey how empowering it was to sit across from my Congressional representatives and watch their opinions of DADT change in front of my eyes based on my experience. Despite the amount of veterans (300+), there was a tremendous warmth between all of the members of the participating organizations and the veterans. To say this was a "family" just doesn't say enough. Upon my arrival, I felt like the new kid on the block. After two days spent on the Hill, I felt like I had known my new friends and the HRC family forever! I am forever changed by this experience. I can't say thank you enough. HRC is a bright light in this at-times dark world. I'm looking forward to my next Lobby Day!

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