Furthering equality step by step

Posted: February 8th, 2013 | Columns, Featured, Political Spectrum | No Comments

Allan Acevedo | Political Spectrum

Activity and calls for action within the LGBT community are most strong when there is a specific and clear need for policy reform. When Proposition 8 was threatening to take our right to marry away in California, we came together strongly to fight.

Allan Acevedo

When the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” seemed imminent, there were people organizing to make it visibly clear we would not accept anything short of full repeal.

Yet after these amazing spurts of effort have come and gone, it seems our community is left with less, rather than more, resolve for the next fight. For many, the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was the end of a long chapter of discrimination in the military which have left thousands of voices silent as they continued to fight for our country.

Now that the repeal is over, there is a whole other group of voices that are still silenced by discrimination in the military: the spouses and family members of LGBT service members. All the repeal did was allow service members to work without fear of losing their jobs because of their sexual orientation. While an important step, this is not a last step.

Lucky for us, the Secretary of Defense confirmation hearing for former Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has served as a clarion call to the Pentagon to examine if it is really doing everything within its power to treat openly gay service members as equally as possible, despite laws such as the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The hearing and the subsequent discussions brought to light that the Pentagon has full authority to grant many benefits to same-sex spouses, regardless of DOMA. Through secretarial directive, the Pentagon could allow for same-sex partners to be issued military dependent identification cards, allow for joint-duty assignments for spouses who are both in the armed services, and grant access to family programs, legal programs and housing.

Many benefits are not afforded to same-sex partners in his country, but the Pentagon cannot continue to hide behind a law that does not actually prevent it from giving benefits to same-sex couples. There are many steps that can be taken now, without the repeal of DOMA.

Because of mounting political pressure due in no small part from the fact that we actually have one of our own fighting for us in the upper house – Senator Tammy Baldwin – we have actually forced the issue with Hagel, a former senator who once called Ambassador James Hormel “openly aggressively gay.”

During the confirmation process, there were myriad openly, aggressively gay and lesbian people waiting and watching to see if Hagel was sincere in his apology, including Baldwin. Hormel himself has accepted Hagel’s apology. During his hearing last week, Hagel promised to move “expeditiously” on the issue of benefits for troops in same-sex relationships.

I want you to pause now and realize how impactful our community has become. We have been able to affect the appointment of a Secretary of Defense because of issues of equality and fairness impacting the LGBT community. This is a historic confirmation process and one that should not be taken lightly.

Remember that President Obama signed the repeal of DADT on December 22, 2010 and certified it on July 22, 2011. The full repeal took effect Sept. 20, 2011. Now here we just a few 15 months later, and we’re fighting to inch toward equality a bit further.

Should Hagel be appointed, this will amount to be the first time a Secretary of Defense promised to prioritize benefits for same-sex partners. This will mean we took that step, but should not lose sight of the step after.

We must recognize that progress does not mean there is an end. It just means we took the next step. This is important for two groups of people. The first are those that helped us reach that step. We must ensure that you recommit to helping us reach the next.

If you’re in the second group, this means you may not have been too engaged. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a voice, it just means you haven’t found it yet. You can still find it, right now.

The next time you feel a sense of security in Hillcrest, or when you are holding your partner’s hand and you have an overwhelming sense of feeling equal, force yourself to remember that we are not. We are not equal in many senses of the words. We are not equal by law or actuality.

We should celebrate our ability to influence the process, but also recognize that once this is over, there will be more to follow.

—Allan Acevedo is co-founder and president emeritus of Stonewall Young Democrats of San Diego. He has worked on multiple political campaigns and served on numerous boards including the San Diego Democratic Club, California Young Democrats, Gay-Straight Alliant Network and Equality California PAC. Follow @allanacevedo on Twitter.

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