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June 2010 Cover
June 2010 Cover

 Editorial from The Guide Editorials Archive  
June 2010 Email this to a friend
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Holding their feet to the fire

By Mark Sullivan

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As I write this, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has just promised a vote on repealing the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy in the House of Representatives. She didn't give a date, only vowing that it "will be taken this year."
�Her announcement may not seem like much, but it's the first time one of our congressional leaders has come close to scheduling a vote on ditching the anti-gay law.
�Did Pelosi make the announcement because of pressure from the Human Rights Campaign, the country's largest gay rights organization? It doesn't seem likely, as the group seemed as surprised as everyone else.
�"As we've been saying for a long time now, the time to repeal the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law is this year, and it's a positive sign to hear congressional leaders affirm that," said HRC spokesperson Michael Cole.
�If I were to guess, I would say that gay issues are on Pelosi's radar screen because of the work of a new activist group called GetEQUAL. Four members of the group recently staged a sit-in in her Capitol Hill office to "highlight the injustices that are clearly out there."
�The group has said it is targeting everyone who has a say in bringing the legislation up for a vote, whether Democrat or Republican. Members are contacting members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, whose approval is needed before the bill can come to the floor of the Senate.
�The group is also making things uncomfortable for President Barack Obama, who supported repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell in his State of the Union address but has not spoken out on the subject since that time.
�At an April 20 fundraiser for Senator Barbara Boxer, Obama encountered members of the group shouting that Don't Ask, Don't Tell should be repealed.
�"What the young man was talking about was we need to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which I agree with and which we have begun to do," said a slightly flustered Obama. "But let me say this: when you've got an ally like Barbara Boxer and you've got an ally like me who are standing for the same thing, then you don't know exactly why you've got to holler, because we already hear you, all right?"
�Obama's criticism was echoed by none other than out gay Congressman Barney Frank. After members of GetEQUAL stormed into a hearing of the House Education and Labor Committee to demand passage of the pro-gay Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Frank was livid. He called the behavior of the activists "immature, tacky."
�"How does this help us get the bill passed?" Frank told a reporter. "Whose mind are they going to change?"
�Robin McGehee, one of the founders of the group, had a simple reply: "Prove us wrong, and make it happen."
�There are many criticisms you could lodge against GetEQUAL. Some of its tactics, such as members chaining themselves to the fence surrounding the White House, are more about attracting television cameras than changing the minds of legislators. And many of its targets, such as Obama, are already supporters of the gay community.
�But its message to politicians is refreshingly direct: stop dithering and pass the bills.
�GetEQUAL is hardly a radical group. By throwing its support behind repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell and passing job protections, it has the same agenda as gay groups like HRC. (Its name also calls to mind HRC's equal-sign logo.) It would be nice to see it agitating for causes that don't have national spokespeople.
�But in the meantime, GetEQUAL has already proven to be indispensable. In the battle for civil rights, gays need all the help they can get. We need the tie-wearing lobbyists inside the halls of government, and we need the T-shirt-clad activists making sure politicians don't forget their promises.

Author Profile:  Mark Sullivan

Mark Sullivan is the managing editor of Guide magazine. He can be contacted at marks@guidemag.com.

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