Pacific edition, Sunday, June 17, 2007

WASHINGTON — A California Democrat is pushing for Congressional hearings on the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for the first time since it was put in place 14 years ago.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., one of the leading opponents of the ban on homosexuals serving openly in the military, said Wednesday that she has begun planning with other members of the House Armed Services Committee on holding public hearings in coming months.

“I think the country and the rank-and-file military are way ahead of Congress on this issue,” Tauscher said. “I think not only are the American people ready, but I think our servicemembers are very much interested in having this ban lifted.”

The policy was put in place in 1993 by Congress after a series of contentious hearings.

Tauscher said the new hearings, part of a campaign to overturn that policy, will feature testimony from current and former homosexual troops to “educate” both lawmakers and high-ranking military on how little the change would affect morale.

“I think there is an interesting stratification between flag officers and the rank-and-file,” she said. “What’s important is through the hearing process to make clear that this does not have any affect on a person’s ability to serve.”

In December, Zogby International published a poll of 545 current servicemembers, which found that 23 percent know someone in their unit who is homosexual. In addition, 78 percent said they would still have joined the military if the “Don’t Ask” policy was not in effect, compared to 10 percent who said they would have avoided serving.

Last month, Stars and Stripes broke the story of Jason Knight, an openly gay sailor who was recalled after being separated and served as a linguist in the Middle East despite not concealing that he was gay. After the story appeared, Knight was again discharged from the service.

In its July issue to be released this week, the Advocate includes stories of two active-duty soldiers who say their commanders know about their sexual preference and have not taken any actions to reprimand or remove them from the service.

Tauscher’s staff said the congresswoman does not have any of those individuals lined up for testimony, but she is confident that a number of active and retired troops can be found to echo those sentiments.

So far the hearings are being planned only on the House side of Capitol Hill.

To view the Zogby poll results from December, go to

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