Praying for Jim Webb
We queer folks are engaged in a great civil rights struggle. In such a struggle, setbacks always happen. Sometimes friends misunderstand the issues.
Civil rights struggles are more than political battles. They are spiritual contests for the soul of an entire people. I am a person of enduring spiritual faith, and I, like other spiritual people, already know that sometimes the most important moment is when you lose—because, sometimes it helps others see how unfair your oppression is, and, at times, it can help us be better prepared, and perhaps better people, for the next round.
Always, the setbacks hurt, even make us angry. We just experienced one when Virginia’s senior U.S. Senator, Jim Webb, voted “No” in the Armed Services Committee as it passed an amendment to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
Obviously, I disagree, and strongly so, with Senator Webb. I wanted, and want, him to vote “Yes.” It is way past time for our military establishment to get a grip on reality and admit that the presence of queer soldiers, sailors, flyers, and marines is not something new and that their presence has not harmed unit cohesion (unless the unit was already not functioning well).
And Senator Webb knows this.
But he says he is concerned with following the process begun by the Secretary of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff—to engage “military men and women in all services and at all levels” as the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy is reviewed. He says that many members of the military would view changing the policy legislatively before the Defense Department review is completed “as disrespectful to the importance of their roles in this process.”
Spoken like a good HR Director (and a former Secretary of the Navy). Senator Webb chairs the Personnel Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee. I admire him for being concerned about doing this in an orderly fashion. I might even share his view if I were an HR Director in the Pentagon.
Trouble is, our military is answerable to civilian authority, and specifically the Congress when it comes to policy. Congress set the policy in the first place and it is up to Congress to repeal it. Not the Pentagon, not even the Secretary of Defense, can decide what the policy is, or when to change it.
Further, this review should have been done years ago—at the least, it could have started in 2009 and been over by now. Besides, the review is, according to Secretary Gates, not about whether to repeal but how best to carry out repeal. The committee’s amendment tied the date of implementation to the review, to allow the Pentagon brass to get all the input they want and to set things up properly.
I want to believe that in the end Senator Webb will support repeal. I want to believe he already does.
After all, he has voted for ENDA and legislation against hate crimes, and opposed the 2006 Marhsall-Newman anti-marriage Virginia constitutional amendment when running for his first term (and he could have ducked by saying it was not a federal issue).
How can we bring him out of the closet?
Well, I know one thing: calling him names won’t do it. He is not a homophobe, nor is he captive to right-wing religious types. He is a thoughtful, independent (sometimes, cussedly so), and intelligent man.
So, it will take thoughtful arguments and moving stories, and yes, some unrelenting pressure, to help Senator Webb move from roadblock to supporter.
This battle is not over. Some Republicans threaten a filibuster when the legislation reaches the Senate floor. I want Senator Webb to support ending the filibuster.
I salute Senator Webb for his concern for the well-being of our armed forces personnel. I am glad we have a Senator who cares.
Now, I want him to see that his genuine care must extend beyond the majority and the commanders to concern for the well-being of the smaller number having to hide in cells of deceit and anxiety constructed by the fears of others. We are not stronger as a nation for their having to hide, but weaker.
To that end, I am praying for him every day. I ask you, if you are a praying person, to do the same. My prayer is for Senator Webb’s health, for his family and staff, for his wisdom in doing many good things, and for his soulful hearing—that he may hear the pleas of those more than 13,000 already discharged and all those forced into silence who protect us now—and that those pleas become so loud in his heart that he finds no recourse but to support repeal.
I continue to communicate with him and his staff, and will not stop until repeal is done. I encourage you to do the same.
You can write to him at http://webb.senate.gov/contact.cfm
In my experience, creating change takes a lot of hard work. This is the reality of social activism—keeping an eye on the horizon of justice where we are surely headed, as we keep our eyes and minds clearly engaged on the difficult ground where we are.
We can help Senator Webb do the right thing, the thing I still believe he wants to do.
Rev. Dr. Robin H. Gorsline is President of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia, an interfaith organization of gay and straight clergy and lay people working for equality for LGBT Virginians. Read more of his thoughts on faith and spirituality on his personal blog.
Image via Colorlines Staff Reports WASHINGTON — A gay West Point graduate discharged from the militaryfor revealing his sexual orientation has been fined $100 in case resulting from his arrest during a 2010 White House demonstration. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office says Dan Choi was convicted and fined Thursday by a judge hearing his case. Choi faced a [...]March 29, 2013
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