By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
COLORADO SPRINGS — Although El Paso County is best-known as a bastion of religious right, pro-gun, anti-abortion and anti-gay politics, it’s also home to an outspoken cadre of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Democrats — some of whom gathered last weekend to hear a speech by Jon Hoadley, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, the LGBT wing of the Democratic Party.
“President Obama is walking a very thin line,” said Hoadley, expressing concern that gay rights issues are being swept aside.
“He’s been in office for 123 days — has tackled the economic crisis, but still hasn’t changed the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy in the military,” Hoadley told about 45 members of the El Paso County chapter of Stonewall Democrats last Saturday.
Hoadley was the keynote speaker at the Third Annual Harvey Milk Dinner and Silent Auction, which featured a “1950s buffet” at the Clarion Hotel. The buffet menu — referencing Mom’s comfort food — included fried chicken, ribs, meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob, potato salad and a sundae bar with a multitude of toppings.
“This is a time when we need to call for action to prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military,” said Hoadley. “Every day that the president waits to address this issue puts people at risk.”
The Stonewall Democrats have pressured Obama to use his executive powers to halt the investigation of gay soldiers and have lobbied Congress to overturn the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” law established in 1993. The law was a compromise in response to then-President Bill Clinton’s push to end discrimination against homosexuals serving in the military.
The law allows the military to investigate military personnel who are suspected of homosexual conduct.
“One of my buddies just received notice that he’s under investigation,” said Hoadley. “This is awful!”
Hoadley’s friend is one of several hundred being scrutinized. In 2008, 619 soldiers suspected of being homosexual were ousted from the military.
According to Pentagon statistics, 607 military personnel were discharged for that reason in 2007, 612 in 2006, 726 in 2005, and 653 in 2004.
Those numbers, however, pale in comparison to the 1,227 discharged in 2001. Some believe the investigations have declined since it became tougher to recruit soldiers to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“One is too many,” declared Hoadley. “We need to build grassroots support to change the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ law.”
The following day, Obama announced that he would not pursue changes to the policy, which he deemed less of a priority than the economic crisis.
Earlier this year, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates equated reversing the ban to integrating blacks into the military — a process that took five years. Army General David Petraeus, who oversees the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, had also expressed concern about overturning the law.
“I’m not sure we want to add something else to our plate right now,” Petraeus said during a speech last month at Kansas State University.
According to Hoadley, several hundred military personnel have been investigated since Obama’s presidential inauguration in January.
The event gave Hoadley the opportunity to galvanize support to overturn the law in Colorado Springs — home to five military installations, none more populated than the Army’s Fort Carson base.
To assist the cause, the Stonewall Democrats donated items for a silent auction — most popular were the Star Trek and Star Wars memorabilia contributed by Jan Hejtmanck.
“I got the original Star Wars special edition framed art for my nephew,” said Alpha Noelle, a party activist. “He’s 31 years old and he loves it!”
Ferrandino present, Apuan absent
One VIP attending the event was Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, who co-sponsored Senate Bill 88, which extends benefits to gay and lesbian partners of state employees.
Ferrandino, the only openly gay member of the Colorado House, was lauded for his support of the bill, which Ritter signed into law last Monday without any fanfare.
During the social hour, Ferrandino was text messaging Rep. Dennis Apuan, D-Colorado Springs, and asking where he was. Ferrandino said that Apuan had been invited, but apparently was running late.
“He doesn’t understand the importance of networking during the social hour,” explained Ferrandino.
Apuan apparently didn’t get the messages — he never appeared for the dinner.
Despite Apuan’s absence, several Stonewall Democrats championed the freshman legislator — and vowed to re-elect him in 2010.
“Republicans are just mad that we stole a third seat from them,” said one Democrat. “We aren’t giving it back to them next year or any year!”
In addition to Apuan, Democratic Sen. John Morse and Rep. Mike Merrifield missed the action. Both reportedly were on vacation.