May 7, 2010 | by Chris Johnson
HRC initially favored Palm 'Don't Ask' proposal: e-mails

The Human Rights Campaign initially favored a proposal — then rescinded support — for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation that would return authority on discharges of LGBT service members to the Pentagon, according to recent e-mails obtained by the Blade.

A statement advocating for legislation that would remove the existing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute – without putting in its place non-discrimination language — was circulated among repeal groups last weekend by the Palm Center, a think tank on gays in the military. Current law mandates discharges of openly LGBT service members, but if such legislation were enacted, the decision on whether or not to expel these troops would return to the Pentagon.

Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, told the Blade earlier this week that he believed such a proposal is the only politically viable option for addressing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the wake of the publication of letter from Defense Secretary Robert Gates asking Congress to hold off this year on a vote on the issue.

Belkin had said most of the major repeal organizations had signed on the proposal, but withdrew their support. He said he didn’t formally publish the statement because other groups didn’t sign on in support.

According to e-mails recently obtained by the Blade, HRC was among the organizations that initially favored the Palm idea.

In Sunday e-mail to Belkin, Mark Glaze, principal for the Raben Group, said “I think they’re on board.”

Glaze told the Blade he’s involved with HRC because the organization hired him to help run a grasstops campaign to persuade uncommitted lawmakers to support repeal this year.

In a subsequent e-mail later the same day, Glaze wrote in the subject line, “Joe is in,” presumably referring to HRC President Joe Solmonese.

An informed source said Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of marketing and communications, later withdrew support from Palm’s proposal in a verbal exchange.

Earlier this week, David Smith, HRC’s vice president of programs, denied in a Blade interview that Solmonese signed his name to the statement and later removed it. He said he wouldn’t discuss behind-the-scenes policy discussions among repeal advocates and maintained HRC isn’t on board with Palm’s proposal.

In a statement, Michael Cole, an HRC spokesperson, maintained the accuracy of Smith’s earlier remarks.

“Your question of David was if Joe had signed on to the statement, then removed his name,” Cole said. “In response, David said that this characterization was not entirely accurate or complete. And that is in fact the case.”

Cole said the Palm proposal “involved a great deal of dialogue” with repeal advocates, but in the end, the statement was not issued.

“We work within a coalition of partner organizations and after many conversations with them and our allies on the Hill, we did not think that it was prudent to move forward with the statement at this time,” Cole added.

The entire Palm Center draft proposal as provided by Belkin follows:

STATEMENT BY MEMBERS OF THE ‘DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL’ REPEAL COMMUNITY

As is widely known, the policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell” consists of two related but distinct parts: a law known as 10 USC § 654 and a series of Pentagon implementing regulations which spell out how the military is to carry out Congressional law. Two years ago, a bipartisan commission of retired General and Flag Officers from every service released a report in which they recommended that Congress repeal 10 USC § 654 in order to “return authority for personnel policy under this law to the Department of Defense.” The commission said little about the implementing regulations.

Members of the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community have said that when Congress repeals 10 USC § 654, it should simultaneously require the military to establish a standard of non-discrimination with respect to sexual-orientation. The community is correct in noting that without that statutory mandate from Congress, the Pentagon might leave current implementing regulations in place, or might revise them in such a way as to perpetuate discrimination. If the goal is to improve national security while treating gay service members just like everybody else, then Congress should repeal 10 USC § 654 and mandate non-discrimination.

As is the case in so many different issue areas, however, optimal policy sometimes collides with political reality. Consistent with the 2008 General and Flag Officer’s Report, we believe that by repealing 10 USC § 654 and returning authority for personnel policy to the Department of Defense at this time, Congress would enhance national security. Repeal would not require the military to take action, but would enable it to implement forthcoming recommendations from the Pentagon study group. We have confidence that with the repeal of 10 USC § 654, the process will come to a successful completion.  We urge Congressional leadership as well as members of our own community to consider this option seriously.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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