Today, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden launched their new initiative, Joining Forces, “to support and honor America’s service members and their families.” With President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden at their side, however, the event was being launched without the inclusion of any gay and lesbian families.
Asked why not, Kristina Schake, Michelle Obama’s communications director, said in a statement provided to Metro Weekly, “The President has been crystal clear that the Administration is moving forward with the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ quickly and efficiently. However, it still remains the law. The White House, including the First Lady and Dr. Biden, look forward to working with the families of gay and lesbian service members after certification occurs and repeal goes into effect.”
More than an hour later, however, at the White House press briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney said he had “nothing” on the exclusion of gay and lesbian servicemembers’ families from the initiative.
When pressed with the statement from the office of the First Lady and asked “how it’s not a missed opportunity for you guys” to exclude gay and lesbian servicemembers’ families, Carney only added, “Why don’t we — I think you’re conflating, here, a couple of things, but why don’t I take that and get back to you?”
Earlier today, Servicemembers United executive director Alex Nicholson stirred this pot, issuing a statement saying, “It is rather unfortunate that both East Wing and West Wing staff have refused to allow a representative of gay military families to even be in the room at an event that is supposed to honor their commitment and sacrifice.”
It is that point — the “representatives of gay military families” — that raises questions about the DADT “still remains the law” reasoning given by the First Lady’s office for gay and lesbian servicemembers’ exclusion. Organizational representation need not be active-duty servicemembers and, thus, need not even involve people subject to DADT.
Nicholson continued: “We have been trying for nearly two weeks to get just one spot for one of our community’s representatives at this event. The First Lady’s office has used the continued enforcement of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ as an excuse to exclude us, even though they know that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ does not apply to the civilians who work at their advocacy and service organizations. Many straight organizational representatives have been invited to this event, including some with few or no military families in their constituencies. Yet our thousands of gay military families are shut out from being represented today because of nothing but lingering political homophobia. Gay and lesbian military families should not have to fight this hard just to stand in the back of the room in 2011.”
[CLARIFICATION: In September 2010, Servicemembers United held what it described as the “first-ever meeting in Washington for military partners [in same-sex relationships] from around the country.”]
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network executive director Aubrey Sarvis, on the other hand, appeared to accept the statement from the First Lady’s office, saying in a statement, “I have no doubt the First Lady shares the President’s goal of seeing open military service a reality this year. Mrs. Obama, the President, and the service chiefs all recognize that gay and lesbian service members are serving today, and that they have families who should be recognized. In fact, the Comprehensive Review Working Group created an opportunity for their voices to be heard in a confidential manner.
“Unfortunately, because ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is still the law, our LGB service members and their families will probably not be an official part of this week’s public activities. However, the First Lady’s welcomed visits to our military bases underscore why we need certification and repeal sooner rather than later, hopefully before the end of this quarter. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network looks forward to Mrs. Obama having the opportunity to sit down with LGB service members and their families later this year when Don’t Ask is no longer the law. We believe the First Lady also looks forward to that opportunity once repeal is in place. In the interim, I remain confident that Mrs. Obama and the President value the unselfish contributions and sacrifices our LGB military families are making today and will find appropriate ways to acknowledge them this week.”
[UPDATE @ 5:20 PM: The briefing transcript:
Q Thanks. Can you explain why, months after signing the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the White House didn’t allow representatives of gay military families to attend today’s event? I mean, isn’t that a missed opportunity for the President to reaffirm his commitment to see through the repeal of the policy?
MR. CARNEY: I actually don’t have anything for you on that. I will take that question — I’m not aware of it at all.
Q Okay. Well, I mean, the First Lady’s office put out a statement confirming it. They said that it’s still the law of the land. But I’m just wondering why — how that’s not a missed opportunity for you guys to —
MR. CARNEY: Well, wait. If you want, I can take this question, but I think you’re conflating here a couple of things. But why don’t I take that and get back to you.
Also, below the jump, please find the full list of “Business and Military Organization Leaders and Others Expected to Attend,” which was provided to members of the media by the White House.]
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From the White House background on today’s event, here are the “Business and Military Organization Leaders and Others Expected to Attend”: