The 448's war - Page 2

Nation's only gay American Legion post, after fighting for its right to exist, pushes to end "don't ask, don't tell"
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The 448 got a seat on the commission after taking the Legion to court in 1987.

According to Commander John Forrett, one of his predecessors had once been asked at a national Legion convention, "Oh, you're from San Francisco. You've got that queer post, don't cha?" And when a gay slur was uttered at a delegate meeting, the post again took the Legion to court. "Following that they haven't dared mouth off any kind of venom about queers," Wilson said.

And while acceptance is more readily found today, there is still some resentment. "It shows through sometimes," Wilson said. "If you were a black man, you'd know when you were getting a subtle brush-off by a white who didn't like you and wouldn't dare say so."

Forrett agrees. "The clash still exists but it's the old guard — the older veterans as well as older active duty members."

When called for comment, the national American Legion office said it didn't even know a gay post existed. However, the American Legion's Department of California — the state headquarters, which is located in San Francisco — told us that the 448's sexual orientation just isn't even an issue nowadays.

DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL

When Congress approved 10 United States Code, Section 654, commonly known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) — the Alexander Hamilton Post had a new fight. Signed in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, DADT is the policy that allows homosexuals to serve as long as they stay in the closet. Since its inception, the 448 has fought aggressively to get it overturned.

The history of DADT is "kind of the history of the post," according to Forrett, who was a reserve Army officer living in the closet during the first Gulf War. Fortunately, his sexuality never came into question, but he eventually resigned his commission because of the unfortunate changes he saw in the military as a result of DADT.

"DADT, with the best of intentions, didn't go far enough to protect and left a huge window of opportunity for predators and harassers," Forrett said.

Forrett has met two of the most prominent casualties of DADT: Lt. Dan Choi, who has since become a post member, and former sailor Joseph Rocha, who wrote an Oct. 11 Washington Post op-ed piece outlining the brutal harassment he received because of his sexuality. He wrote that his chief forced him to simulate oral sex with another sailor, and was once tied up in a dog kennel.

Since the mid-1990s, the 448 has sought to build support for repealing DADT. Hardman and others testified in Congress in 1996 on the damaging impact of the policy. He also pushed for the belated release of what he called the "long-suppressed" 1993 Rand Corporation study on gays in the military. The study's conclusion was that sexual orientation wasn't germane when deciding who can and cannot effectively serve in the military

The report spearheaded the post's partnership with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a nonprofit organization helping those harassed under DADT. "The Alexander Hamilton Legion has been a longtime committed partner," Aubrey Sarvis, SLDN Executive Director wrote in an e-mail to the Guardian.

Post members attend SLDN's Lobby Day, where supporters gather on Capitol Hill asking politicians to take action. And they continue to work with SLDN on getting the Military Readiness Enhancement Act — a bill that would repeal DADT — pushed through Congress.

But other post members are getting impatient. "Get on with it," Service Officer Robert C. Potter told us. "As my mother would say, 'Either shit or get off the pot.'"

"Before Obama gets out of office, I want this changed," Sergeant-at-Arms Jimmy McConnell said. "And it's not just for me.

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