Gay Veterans Mount Attack on Military Policy

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Gay Veterans Mount Attack on Military PolicyA group of gay and lesbian veterans is touring the country in a campaign called Legacy of Service, to speak out against the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and the impact it has on service members.
by Lornet Turnbull

Left, Antonio Agnone and his partner, Brandon, were featured as the cover story in Pride magazine, the official magazine of Interpride 2007.

Antonio Agnone says every American has a duty to serve his country, and when he graduated from college five years ago, the path he took to do so was through the military.

He says he was consistently rated the top lieutenant in his U.S. Marine Corps battalion, and as an explosives officer in Iraq he hunted for bombs meant to maim and kill American troops.

But Agnone said he knew that in serving his country he also was denying a huge part of who he was.

So when it came time to consider re-enlisting, he and his partner sat down to talk it through.

"We decided that I could deploy again and leave him here without the benefits, the basic courtesies any other spouse would be afforded," Agnone said…

     

But instead, Agnone left the Marines in April. "It was a hard decision; I wanted to stay," he said.

Agnone, who grew up in Columbus, Ohio, is among a group of gay and lesbian veterans touring the country in a campaign called Legacy of Service, to speak out against the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and the impact it has on service members.

They will participate in a panel discussion at 7 p.m. today at the Naval Reserve Building in Seattle.

They are former officers and enlisted personnel — some kicked out of the military and others who bided their time, keeping quiet about their sexual orientation.

The policy, which President Clinton signed into law in 1993, encourages deception and denies gay partners notification upon the death of a gay service member, they say. Between 1994 and 2006, nearly 12,000 men and women were discharged from the armed services under the policy.

Seattle is the third stop on the nine-city tour launched by the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights advocacy group involved in a nationwide move to repeal the law.

Agnone said that as an explosives officer in Iraq, it troubled him that the military wouldn't notify his partner if he was injured or killed, and that he wouldn't be notified if something happened to his partner.

"I got out because of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and want to work on getting it repealed so that young service members can focus on the jobs they're doing and come home safely," he said.

Al Steinman, a 62-year-old retired U.S. Coast Guard admiral who lives in Seattle and will moderate tonight's event, said he spent 25 years covering up the fact that he is gay. He retired in 1997 but didn't publicly come out for five more years.

In addition to those gays and lesbians discharged from the military under the policy, Steinman said, up to 3,000 a year quietly leave the military because of the policy.

For more information visit Legacy of Service at: http://www.hrc.org/legacyofservice/ 


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