Offering analysis, inside information, Monday-morning quarterbacking, and, yes, blame, four high-level insiders of the LGBT political movement convened in Manhattan’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center Thursday night and spoke to a standing room-only house of hundreds for almost two hours. Political strategist Richard Socarides moderated, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Where Are We, and How Did We Get Here,” with panelists Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post, author Dr. Nathaniel Frank, and the Center for American Progress’ Winnie Stachelberg.
It was clear that Stachelberg, the Senior Vice President for External Affairs at the Center for American Progress, and who reportedly had a great deal to do with the controversial DADT repeal compromise language, was the Obama-apologist and blame-thrower in the room.
Saying, “Two years, not much has happened,” Socarides, who served as chief advisor to Clinton on gay civil rights from 1997-99, was rebuffed by Stachelberg, who claimed, “We’re closer than ever to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” When Socarides asked the panel what the chances were of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011, if repeal fails in this year’s lame duck session, Nathaniel Frank opted to quote Rep. Barney Frank (no relation) and replied, “Zero.” Stachelberg, who later said, “I’m a Yankee fan. I’m an optimist,” said, “Very, very remote.”
Stachelberg’s optimism goes only so far. When asked about the current state of repeal, Stachelberg says, “You wouldn’t get sixty. You’d get fifty-four, fifty-six or -seven.”
But perhaps the most striking revelation of the evening was Stachelberg’s own indictment of what is commonly referred to as, “Gay, Inc.,” the cadre of professional LGBT advocacy groups, including her former employer, HRC. The title of the evening was, indeed, “How Did We Get Here?,” and Stachelberg certainly had a rather controversial take.
Socarides, who experienced gay rights challenges as part of the Clinton White House, posed the question, “Why did the Obama administration wait so long to get started [on repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"]?” Stachelberg offered that there was “disagreement from the advocacy community as to why a study was needed,” and claimed, “had advocacy groups in January of 2009 said, ‘Let’s get a study together,’ we’d be further ahead.” Nathaniel Frank immediately reminded the panel that there had already been twenty-two studies commissioned by the military on the subject of gays in the military.
Now, think about that for a moment. Then read Stachelberg’s bio:
“Winnie Stachelberg is the Senior Vice President for External Affairs at the Center for American Progress. Prior to joining American Progress, she spent 11 years with the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay civil rights organization. In January 2005, Stachelberg was appointed to the newly created position of vice president of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. Previously, she was HRC’s political director, initiating and leading the expansion of HRC’s legislative, political and electoral strategies. Before joining HRC, Stachelberg worked at the Office of Management and Budget.”
So, Stachelberg is blaming gay “advocacy groups” for not advancing the need for yet another study, after there have already been twenty-two, as the reason “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal is about to fail?
Stachelberg has held top-level, senior positions in the very advocacy groups she is now blaming, and that many in the LGBT community hold responsible for having attained not a single goal in “the gay agenda,” namely, repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA,) and enacting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA.)
Frank, renowned author of, Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America, said, “the idea that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal needed to be studied is political cover.”
So, let’s be clear here. A senior “Gay, Inc.” executive wants to fall on her sword, giving the perception that LGBT advocacy groups have the power to make things happen, but failed, thus protecting politicians? While I don’t doubt that some key LGBT advocacy groups have clearly failed, that seems extraordinarily generous in my estimation.
I think it’s clear that “Gay, Inc.” thinks it wields more power than it actually does, and in the face of mounting public frustration over its repeated record of failure, is, by Stachelberg’s statements, willing to prop up the politicians even at the cost of their own futures.
Given the dismal record of the current Senate and the current administration, and LGBT advocacy groups on critical LGBT issues, the question is, “Why?”
Jonathan Capehart, who has been supportive of this administration, told the audience that President Obama in 2009 had two meetings with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and at one point, looked at the Secretary and said of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” “You know this is un-American?”
Capehart believes that Obama deserves credit for getting Gates and Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, on board with repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and with creating the climate within the senior ranks of the military that will allow it.
Capehart, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and MSNBC Contributor, also says of the public’s level of frustration with the route “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal has gone, that the Obama administration has “always gotten it.”
“The impression I get is they know the frustration. They understand the frustration. They appreciate the frustration.”
Stachelberg added, “It is clear to me that the administration understands the importance of getting this done now. Very much a difference now.”
The panel essentially blamed Senator Reid for the way he brought the National Defense Authorization Act to the floor, with the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal rider attached, and the DREAM Act also attached at the last minute, as the reason the Senate voted down the measure in September.
Once the panel’s discussion was over, the floor was opened to questions.
(At this point I must say, on a personal note, I was extraordinarily proud. The only questions came from Tanya Domi, a regular contributor to The New Civil Rights Movement, and from Justin Elzie and Scott Wooledge, both of whom have written for The New Civil Rights Movement in the past. They were impressive, extremely knowledgeable, and insightful.)
Domi, an Assistant Adjunct Professor at Columbia and former U.S. Army Captain who in the late 1990′s was the legislative director and military freedom initiative director at the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, stood and commandingly said, “I am stunned that this discussion did not include the fact that we are in a time of war.” She went on to say that the president has the right during a time of war, due to the military powers act, to choose any category of personnel (“even blonds,”) and stop all discharges.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Stachelberg answered that Obama’s lawyers are telling him he does not have that right. (A thought flashed through my mind at this point that I wish Bush 43 had had Obama’s lawyers. Perhaps we wouldn’t have waterboarded.)
Then Justin Elzie spoke, identifying himself as the first Marine to come out under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” author of the upcoming book, Playing By the Rules, as well as someone who has written extensively on the subject of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” emceed the Washington, D.C. May 2 rally at the White House which Howard Dean showed up unannounced, and has worked with GetEQUAL, “so this isn’t my first trip around the barbecue.” Having established his credibility, Elzie responded to Capehart’s assertion that if Obama had executed a stop-loss (executive order) early in his presidency that a “Palin presidency” or future president could come back and undo it was a “red-herring.”
Elzie stated that a stop-loss order early in Obama’s presidency would have negated any issue of a problem “in foxholes and showers,” and would have taken that argument away from those opponents of repeal after having LGBT servicemembers serving openly for two years, in which no enormous consequences would have happened, stating no president would have been able to undo that after “Pandora’s box had been opened.” He also responded to the assertion that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal couldn’t be done overnight, reminding the panel that the U.K. switched overnight into allowing openly-gay service. Elzie also responded to an assertion that Obama, due to long-standing tradition, had to appeal the Log Cabin Republicans’ “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” court case by indicating the National Law Journal had written there were thirteen cases the Department of Justice under Bush and Obama never appealed.
The panel, needless to say, had little to offer in way of response, but Stachelberg did say that how the bill comes to the floor, and how the GOP is involved in the process, is up to Senator Reid.
Wooledge, who himself has worked as an activist for LGBT rights and has also written extensively about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” reminded the panel that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal bill isn’t actually even a repeal bill, which Senator Carl Levin has even admitted. What it is, what we’ve been fighting for, (thanks, by the way to Stachelberg and “Gay, Inc.,”) is a bill that puts the how and when of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal one hundred percent in the hands of the military.
Wooledge has an excellent point. As he says, this legislation is discretionary, it’s “not enduring policy.”
Socarides, Capehart, Frank, and even Stachelberg did a good job of presenting and defending recent history and facts as they saw them. I would add that Domi, Elzie, and Wooledge had at least as much to offer on the longer side of history, and deeper, more pro-active facts.
All images © David Wallace and used by permission.
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