Thursday, March 19, 2009

Saluting a Champion of Troops and a Leader on Repeal

When the day arrives - as it soon will - that our armed forces finally, and officially, welcome lesbian and gay troops, it will be due in no small part to the efforts of Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher (D-CA). Tauscher (pictured), who is revered in Washington as one of the Capitol's keenest minds on military and national security issues, has devoted enormous time and energy in leading the effort to topple "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and has moved the ball immeasurably forward in the campaign to end our government's official discrimination against lesbian and gay patriots.

Yesterday, we learned that Congresswoman Tauscher will be leaving the House, to accept a new post as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security . . . a post that her years of work on arms issues and defense strategy make her uniquely qualified to fill. And for many lesbian and gay Americans - and especially LGBT troops - she will leave behind an admirable legacy and some big shoes to fill.

Since becoming the lead Congressional sponsor of The Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Tauscher has helped keep the issue of gays in the military on the front pages of America's newspapers, and on the front burner of the national debate.

After assuming responsibility for the legislation following the departure of former Congressman Marty Meehan (D-MA), Tauscher promised - and delivered - the first Congressional hearings on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" since the law's implementation. Those hearings - chaired by Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-CA) - unmasked the unmistakable bigotry of those who continue to support prohibitions on open service and put the Pentagon on notice that change is coming soon. And they may have never happened without Tauscher's leadership and her commitment to LGBT service personnel and their families, too.

Just weeks ago, Tauscher re-introduced her repeal legislation, emphasizing that she would not abandon the fight for equality in our armed forces. And we have no doubt that she will continue to be a fierce defender, in her new role at the State Department, of the rights of lesbian and gay Americans to serve.

In the coming weeks, Congress will find a new leader to shepherd The Military Readiness Enhancement Act through the House. The smart money may well be on Davis, who represents a district with a large military population who admire and respect her leadership, and who chairs the Subcommittee on Personnel and Readiness, where repeal legislation is now pending.

In the meantime, however, countless service members, their families and loved ones, will pause to remember, and salute, Congresswoman Tauscher for her dedication to lifting the ban. Because of her tireless efforts, they each had a champion, and a true leader, working on their behalf on Capitol Hill.

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