March 25, 2010 | by Marty Rouse
No time to waste in ‘Don’t Ask’ fight

We have an unprecedented opportunity to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — a law that not only harms our national security but also one that devalues every LGBT American by placing a stamp of “unworthy” on our service. We elected a president who supports repeal and have congressional leadership who will bring it to the floor. But that doesn’t mean it’s in our pocket and the harsh political reality is that we won’t enjoy this scenario forever.

We have to spur action and we have to do it fast — both with our allies and those on the fence.

Over the past several weeks, the HRC field staff has been on the ground in our six targeted states where Senate votes are critical to repeal — Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Virginia and West Virginia — and we’ve been laying the groundwork for months before that. At the same time we’ve seen other types of actions in D.C. and around the country demanding our equality from groups like Get Equal and Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. James Pietrangelo making a stand at the White House.

There are no lack of pressure points we must hit to repeal this discriminatory law and every LGBT person needs to ask her or himself, how important is our equality and what action can I take to advance the cause. The answer will certainly be different for each of us but the point is we all need to actually get involved if we want to create the world in which we want to live.

My job at the Human Rights Campaign is about mobilizing people to move their legislators to vote with us. When our lobbyists in Washington, D.C., go to a congressional office, the worst thing that they can hear is “no one in my district cares about this issue” or “there are no gay people in my district.” Our leaders are not going to vote with us just because of an opinion poll, or because of a persuasive legal argument — though those things certainly matter, and we deliver them too. They need to hear from the most persuasive voices — the people whom they represent — and also understand there will be consequences for not standing with us.

Lobbying for votes is critical, but it is by no means the only good work that is happening. People are marching, rallying, sitting-in, demanding action, standing up publicly and sharing their stories. I commend every person who is out there working for this; I know that no matter what part of the job we’re performing, we’re all doing it for the same reason, and to serve the same goal.

Lately there has been a lot of talk about disagreements in strategy, and divisions among us. That’s a natural outgrowth of how diverse our community is, how complex the problems, and how many forms of activism can be effective in making change. We can and should make one another do better, but not at the expense of letting this moment pass us by.

We all have different roles to play in our fight for equality and no one should be diminishing others’ work or questioning their commitment. Furthermore, a healthy and fair dialogue that holds people accountable for successes and failures makes us stronger. Since the beginning of the LGBT rights movement people have taken different positions on strategy, but moments of success have not come from when we’ve fought each other, but used our individual methods to fight our real enemies.

For our part at HRC, we’re organizing the grassroots — particularly veterans — to put pressure on the administration and Congress to deliver on DADT repeal. We’ve identified 2,500 veterans ready to take a larger role in the repeal effort. We’ve put in more than 190,000 phone calls and e-mails to members of Congress and submitted more than 1,300 letters to editors in newspapers in priority media markets. We’ve organized in-person citizen lobby visits with 275 of our members in Washington and more than 250 visits in-district. Our ground troops have held events in 41 cities and over the next several months we will conduct at least 20 more.

This weekend at my younger brother’s wedding, a relative who is in the military brought up DADT and told me, “if repeal is passed, we will implement it just fine.” I know our women and men in uniform will continue to make us proud but it’s up to us to repeal this law that gets in the way of their mission.

Time is short so find the kind of activism that suits you and do it. Our Repeal DADT site (www.hrc.org/RepealDADT) has plenty of ways you can take action. However you want to help the cause, do it today. We don’t have any time to waste.

Marty Rouse is national field director for the Human Rights Campaign and can be reached via hrc.org.

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