April 2, 2010 at 11:45 am EDT | by Erwin de Leon
Rewind: Compare and contrast

Today’s story in the Washington Post about a group of gay and trans Iranian refugees reminds me of how far we’ve come in securing our rights.

While we yawn at news of the latest celebrity coming out and are unimpressed by poll results showing that a majority of Americans are fine with having a gay president or Supreme Court justice, the Iranians savor their new found freedom in a conservative Turkish city.

Nonetheless, we still have a long road ahead. Take for example, the unnecessary and messy slog to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which generated some attention this week.

Although Defense Secretary Robert Gates had outlined new measures that would make it harder to discharge enlisted lesbians and gays, and made it very clear that the discriminatory law will be repealed, a few top generals have been running interference, hoping to stop the inevitable and exposing their desperation for the old order to remain intact.

Retired NATO commander and former senior Marine officer John Sheehan was forced to write a letter of apology after recklessly and disingenuously using the horrific Srebrenica genocide as an argument for not allowing openly gay, lesbian and bisexual people to serve in the armed forces. He had testified at a Senate hearing last month that Dutch United Nations troops failed to prevent the massacre because they had homosexuals in their ranks.

Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon of the U.S. Army was slapped on the wrist for submitting an unsolicited letter to Stars and Stripes, a military newspaper. He brazenly advocated for his personal stance, writing, “It is often stated that most servicemembers are in favor of repealing the policy. I do not believe that is accurate. I suspect many servicemembers, their families, veterans and citizens are wondering what to do to stop this ill-advised repeal of a policy that has achieved a balance between a citizen’s desire to serve and acceptable conduct. Now is the time to write your elected officials and chain of command and express your views. If those of us who are in favor of retaining the current policy do not speak up, there is no chance to retain the current policy.”

And the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Conway, threw a dud by proclaiming that he would not force straight Marines to share rooms with gay service members when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed. If the general paused for a minute to think about it, with about 65,000 lesbians, gays and bisexuals serving in our armed forces, it is most likely that straight and gay marines are already sharing quarters with no adverse affect on morale or unit cohesion.

Finally, Army Secretary John McHugh said that he would not discharge any gay personnel who came out to him, only to backtrack a day later, claiming that he misspoke. He now warns soldiers that they can still be dismissed if they do tell.

Aside from “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is the other piece of legislation which has been introduced in every Congress, except the 109th, since 1994: the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would bar workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Although Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) expects the bill to come up for a vote on the House floor sometime soon and is confident that it will pass, the Senate will not act on the measure, effectively punting ENDA to the next Congress. Again.

And not even in serious contention is the Uniting American Families Act, which would permit partners and spouses of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to obtain green cards much like spouses of straight citizens and legal permanent residents.

Learning about the dire and often deadly straits of LGBT people in other parts of the world puts things in perspective. We do have it better. But we are hardly full citizens in a nation where all are supposed to be equal.

You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

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