For Immediate Release:
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN, VETERANS KICK OFF NATIONAL TOUR TO REPEAL 'DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL' IN IOWA
Iowa Event Seeks to Highlight Issue in Important Presidential Caucus State
DES MOINES, IOWA - At an event this evening at the Iowa Historical Society in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, the Human Rights Campaign kicked off A Legacy of Service - a national tour focused on repeal of the military's discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. The tour features the real-life stories of openly gay and lesbian veterans who have honorably served in the U.S. armed forces.
The Iowa event featured Iowa state Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D) Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese Iowa veteran James Taylor Eric Alva, the first U.S. service member injured in Iraq Army linguists Alex Nicholson and Jarrod Chlapowski and former Marine Corps officer Antonio Agnone.
"The kick-off of this national tour comes at a time when the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy continues to be heavily scrutinized nationally," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "We felt it was important to come to Iowa and put the issue of repeal front and center with potential caucus-goers. Next January, when the people of Iowa go to pick a candidate for president, we hope they remember the compelling stories of the veterans heard here tonight. The issue of repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' affects the lives of every American because it ultimately is affecting the national security of our country. It is time for this policy to go into the history books, where it belongs."
The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy has been put at the forefront of the 2008 presidential election. In recent debates in New Hampshire, both the Democratic and Republican candidates were asked if they supported repeal. All the Democratic candidates signaled their support. None of the Republican candidates voiced support for repealing the policy. Furthermore, last week, a front-page New York Times story further highlighted the national debate centering on repealing the policy. And since that story, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and other newspapers across the country have editorialized for the 2008 presidential candidates to throw their support behind repealing the policy.
"My sacrifice was for the freedom and equality of all Americans, not just certain groups of people. I am proud to be a part of this tour because I personally feel obligated to speak out on behalf of the thousands of gay and lesbian service members who have served and continue to serve our country with honor and distinction," said Eric Alva, a former Marine staff sergeant and the first U.S. service member wounded in the Iraq war.
"One day, we are going to end discrimination in our military. And we are going to treat all of our troops with the respect and dignity they deserve. Hopefully, by telling our stories, we can begin that process and begin to move our country forward," said Antonio Agnone, a former Marine Corps officer and a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" fellow with the
Human Rights Campaign.
"We should honor our men and women in uniform by giving them credit for being the trained and disciplined professionals they are. And we should honor the institution of the United States military by allowing it to utilize the best and brightest our country has to offer, even if that includes known gay men or women," said Alex Nicholson, a former Army linguist and co-founder of the Call to Duty Tour.
"I question the integrity of a policy that would rather turn its head and pretend that people such as myself, and other gay and lesbian service members, don't exist. And it is my duty, as a veteran and as an American, to question the integrity of individuals who would disregard the contributions of honorable men and women all over this great nation," said James Taylor, a local Iowa naval veteran.
"What I have realized is that when some of the most hard-core, conservative people in our country come face to face with a gay service member, such as myself, their stereotypes, fears and preconceived notions about what a gay or lesbian soldier is fall apart. That is why this tour is so important to the overall goal of repealing this discriminatory policy," said Jarrod Chlapowski, a former Army linguist and co-founder of the Call to Duty Tour.
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" - the current U.S. policy on gays in the military - is the only law in the country that forces people to be dishonest about their personal lives or be fired or possibly imprisoned. This discriminatory policy hurts military readiness and national security while putting American soldiers fighting overseas at risk. As stated by John M. Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a former supporter of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the lift of the ban is inevitable. "When that day comes, gay men and lesbians will no longer have to conceal who they are, and the military will no longer need to sacrifice those whose service it cannot afford to lose," Shalikashvili said.
'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' poses exorbitant costs to the military and nation:
The vast majority of Americans support the right of service members to serve openly and honestly, and the majority of service members are comfortable serving alongside gay and lesbian troops.
The Human Rights Campaign's A Legacy of Service national tour is stopping in six cities throughout the country. The tour began in Des Moines, Iowa - home of the first presidential caucus - and will end in New Hampshire, home of the nation's first presidential primary. To find out more about the tour, please visit: www.hrc.org/legacyofservice.
The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against GLBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.
To make a general inquiry, please visit our contact page. Members of the media can reach our press office at: (202) 572-8968 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.