As I travel the District knocking on doors running for the D.C. Council I hear how much residents expect of their Council member. Many are part of the federal workforce, many have or had family members in the military. They understand how what Congress does impacts us directly. They know that we have no legislative or budget autonomy, no vote, and that our men and women go to war to defend democracy around the world and then come home to none here.
My background working for and understanding the federal government and congressional relations, will aid me in my work as a Council member. I will use my office to support our representative and lobby Congress on issues of concern to my constituents. I will fight for a vote in the House now. I will be fighting for approval of the legislation that the Council passes and for approval of our budget.
As I walk the halls of Congress demanding statehood for the District, I will also work on a host of issues that directly impact us in D.C. The saying “no man is an island,” relates directly to us. Surely we are entitled to have our voices heard on all the issues that impact our residents. Healthcare, the environment, immigration reform, jobs programs, energy policy, HIV/AIDS, education, and a host of other issues including “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.
A part of my responsibility to my constituents is to speak out on all issues impacting them as we fight to have full democracy and our own voice. Our birthright is no different from those of people in every other state. We have only a small number of elected officials in the District so their responsibilities are huge. If we are to be recognized as a world-class city we need to stand up not only for ourselves as District residents, but for ourselves as Americans.
One issue I will speak out on is the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” With a commander-in-chief who supports ending the law and a majority of Americans agreeing, we need to do this now.
My military constituents here, both gay and straight, say there has never been a better time to repeal the law. They agree it needs to be done in a systematic way. The issue is how long they will have to wait. There needs to be strong support from the top and there needs to be a total recognition that it should not be sexual orientation that determines separation from the military, but rather behavior as it is for all military personnel.
In the House of Representatives, 189 lawmakers have co-sponsored H.R. 1283, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2009, which would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and Senate Armed Services Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has now held the first hearing on this issue. I applaud the strong statement of Secretary Gates and the courageous words of the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs, Admiral Mullen, about ending the law and their efforts to make it harder to dismiss someone while they do. I am thankful that Colin Powell appears to have changed his mind. I am a little concerned about the working group looking at the implications and possibly determining they may take years to overcome. Taking years is unacceptable.
We in the LGBT community must speak out loudly and clearly and ask our president to continue to do the same. We need to pressure Congress to act and set a date certain to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The president needs to persuade a new cast of witnesses to speak out. He should personally ask them, as their president and commander in chief. Former Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen said he now favors repealing the policy. I think that President Obama should work with other leaders like former Virginia Sen. John Warner and ask them to publicly endorse repealing the ban.
The effort to repeal in the Congress will require not only Democratic but Republican support and Cohen, Warner and Powell can help by giving cover to wavering Republicans.
There are many items on the promise list the president made when he ran for office. Healthcare, energy legislation, jobs legislation, and the promises made to the LGBT community to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act. Not an easy agenda but one that impact us in D.C. It appears that the votes may not be there this year to pass an inclusive ENDA, which I support, or to repeal DOMA. But ending the military’s gay ban is within our grasp. It is something that with the right backbone in the White House and from our congressional supporters can get done this year.
The people of the District deserve a Council member who will speak up for them on issues that directly impact their lives.
Clark Ray is an at-large candidate for D.C. City Council. Reach him via clarkrayforcouncil.com.