Coming on the heels of the opinion made by Judge Virginia A. Phillips of Federal District Court in California stating that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is unconstitutional, another important case made its way to court on Monday, September 13. The focus of the case is Major Margaret Witt, 46, who served in the Air Force for 17 years before being discharged because of the military’s enforcement of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. The Air Force launched an investigation upon receiving notification of a same-sex relationship Witt was involved in from a third party in 2004, and she was in turn discharged in 2007.
After a federal judge dismissed her initial lawsuit, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reinstated the case, ruling in 2008 that the government had to meet a higher standard of scrutiny before intruding on her private life. Major Witt’s trial will provide an unparalleled opportunity for her representation in court to attack the central premise of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”: that allowing lesbian, gay, and bisexual people to serve openly divides units and undermines military readiness. Witt comes armed with numerous members of the Air Force she served with, who are all prepared to testify that it was Witt’s discharge that contributed to eroded troop morale and cohesion. Also testifying on her behalf is Nathaniel Frank, who penned the book “Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America.” Another important aspect of Frank’s testimony: he most recently was an expert witness in the Log Cabin Republican’s case before Judge Phillips.
Witt is an operating room nurse and a decorated flight nurse. In 2003 she was awarded the Air Medal for her support to combat operations evacuating wounded troops. She was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal for saving a Department of Defense civilian. By virtually every standard, Major Witt seemed to be the ideal servicewoman; she didn’t even “ask” or “tell”, guarding her private life vigilantly over the course of her long career. Instead, she was outed, as a multitude of committed service members are, because of a law that PFLAG and so many others fervently oppose.
Denying a talented and patriotic American such as Major Witt is a prime example of how continuing the policy deprives the military of effective leaders. If Major Witt prevails in the district court, she will become the first woman allowed to serve openly as a lesbian since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was enacted in 1993. The law, however, would continue to apply to other service members. Here at PFLAG, we hope with great optimism that Senator Harry Reid, who is expected to schedule a vote for repeal next week, will do so expediently and that the Senate will finally decide to strike this discriminatory law from the books.
To learn more on how you can help repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” once and for all, please click here and take action today!
This post was written by Eric VanDreason, the newest edition to PFLAG National’s Policy Team. To learn more about Eric and his role at the National Office, please visit our staff page here.