Retired Army Maj. Jeff Cleghorn, a gay attorney from Atlanta, traveled to Washington, D.C., late last month to lobby Congress to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” The trip was part of an organized campaign by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Fund and the Human Rights Campaign.
“It’s an extraordinary and historic time,” said Cleghorn, who left the Army in 1996 and formerly served on the staff of SLDN.
HRC organized a March 18 rally against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in Washington that featured gay-friendly comedian Kathy Griffin. But the event was overshadowed by Lt. Dan Choi, a gay Iraq War veteran who took to the stage to invite rally attendees to join him in a march to the White House.
Choi and former Army Capt. Jim Pietrangelo then chained themselves to a White House fence in a dramatic protest against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” They were arrested along with Robin McGehee, leader of GetEqual.org.
“I want to explain why these actions are exactly what we need to be doing as American citizens,” Choi told the DC Agenda, the city’s LGBT newspaper, upon his release from jail March 19. “When there’s a time when our leaders are unable, unwilling to do the right thing, somebody has to step up to the responsibility.”
Choi is in the process of being discharged for being gay; Pietrangelo was discharged in 2004.
Cleghorn said he did not attend the rally because he was lobbying Congress at the time. But he and his partner, Kevin Kirby, did attend a fundraising dinner for Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Penn.), the lead sponsor of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which seeks to repeal DADT.
“Rep. Patrick Murphy, the lead sponsor of the bill, is very optimistic. In the House we have 191 co-sponsors, so we feel we’re in striking distance for approval. In Senate there are already 26 co-sponsors,” Cleghorn said.
In Georgia, Cleghorn is urging those who oppose “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to contact Democratic Congressmen David Scott, Sanford Bishop, John Barrow and Jim Marshall.
“We’re working with Georgia Equality to put consistent pressure on these four,” said Cleghorn, who recommended “calling, writing letters, [and] in person visits to district offices even if you talk with staffers.”
In 1992, Cleghorn was in the Army and working at the Pentagon. He said President Clinton’s 1993 “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” compromise was like a kick in the gut. “Seventeen years later, I remember the emotions vividly,” he said.
But Cleghorn said he believes that this time, the debate over gays in the military will end differently.
“We are better organized. There is a lot of data and research,” he said. “The cumulative weight is winning the day in Congress and the court of public opinion.”