OS2011 Summit: Even after DADT repeal, more work lies ahead
Published: October 14, 2011
LAS VEGAS -- For attendees at the military gay rights conference that opened here today, the celebration of the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" is already over. Now it's time to tackle the next set of problems facing openly gay servicemembers.
"We had that day to celebrate, and maybe a few days after," said Petty Officer Second Class Jeffery Priela, a hospital corpsman based in Hawaii and a local OutsServe chapter leader there. "Now we're building the groundwork for the future, and what kind of professional orgaizations [gay troops] will need in their careers."
The conference, sponsored by the pro-repeal group OutServe, is the first of its kind since open service for gay troops was banned under the "don't ask, don't tell" law. The event features several hundred gay and straight servicemembers, plus representatives from Pentagon leadership, gay rights groups, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Central Intelligence Agency.
Air Force 1st Lt. Josh Seefried, a co-founder of OutServe, said the end of the 18-year ban on openly gay troops does not mean the end of the fight for equal rights for all servicemembers.
"We do have to do some culture work over the next few months," he said. "People need to feel safe to come out, breaking down that stigma that you can't be gay in the military."
Seefried said participants are also tackling issues like inequality in benefits for gay spouses, resources for gay couples who are deployed, and how to access existing services previously unavailable to closeted servicemembers.
The undercurrent to many of those issues is the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions for purposes of government benefits. The Defense Department and VA have already cited the law as the reason they can't extend housing stipends, disability pay and related benefits to gay couples.
Troops at the conference say they’re hopeful that more lobbying work of lawmakers and Pentagon leaders will lead to a repeal of that law in coming months.