Activists offer guidance on celebrating end of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

September 12, 2011

With the Defense Department preparing to end its “don’t ask, don’ t tell” policy next Tuesday, gay rights groups are advising the rank and file about what can be done to mark the milestone.

Activists say troops on some U.S. military facilities are expected to host parties marking the formal end of the ban on gay men and lesbians openly serving in uniform. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a legal group representing service members affected by the ban, said troops should be able to attend such events.

The Pentagon did not immediately return requests for comment on SLDN’s guidance.

“We expect that most of the DADT repeal celebrations will be just that — celebrations of the repeal of a bad law. No special rules apply to attendance at or participation in such events,” SLDN said. The group issued its guidance after reviewing military policy.

So once “don’t ask, don’t tell” ends, can troops announce that they’re gay? Yes. Can they attend parties celebrating the end of the ban? Yes. Can they help raise money for a gay rights group? Not if it’s on a military base, according to Defense Department policy.

Troops wishing to attend repeal-related events next week may wear their uniforms and speak as individuals “about the importance of repeal to them personally and to the services generally,” SLDN said in a memo to troops published Monday. “They may say that they are happy and proud that they now do not have to hide their sexual orientation,” the memo said. But they “should not, of course, criticize their commanders (or past commanders) or elected officials or urge the election or defeat of candidates for office.”

Troops may also attend nonpartisan political events — such as parties hosted by gay rights groups — but may not wear their uniforms or do anything to suggest official sponsorship or endorsement, according to SLDN. They also are permitted to attend partisan political events as a spectator, but may not actively participate. Fundraising for a gay rights group at a military facility is prohibited.

Military officials haven’t publicly released any plans to mark the end of the ban next week. President Obama, who signed a bill ending the gay ban last December, is not expected to attend any events marking the end of the ban according to administration officials and gay rights activists, because he will be in New York for meetings with the United Nations General Assembly.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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