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social sciences

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Don't Ask, Don't Tell  
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The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), an organization dedicated to ending discrimination and harassment against military personnel affected by DADT, emerged as a leading voice for change. It offered free and confidential legal advice to those directly affected by the policy; it lobbied Congress and other political institutions for repeal of the policy; and it challenged the constitutionality of the policy in court.

The Executive Director of SLDN, Aubrey Sarvis, a former U. S. Senate staffer and communications executive, was a leader in pressuring Congress and the Obama administration on the issue and in developing strategies for repeal of DADT.

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The work of the Palm Center, a think-tank at the University of California, Santa Barbara (since relocated to UCLA), which concentrates on the study of sexual minorities in the military, was also influential in attacking DADT. Its research thoroughly undermined the assumptions about the deleterious affect of gay men and lesbians on unit cohesion that allegedly justified the policy in the first place. The numerous books and articles--both scholarly and journalistic--of Nathaniel Frank and Aaron Belkin were especially significant.

In addition, a number of individuals who were directly affected by the policy also emerged as effective activists against it.

Perhaps the best known of these is a charismatic infantry officer and Arab linguist who served in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, Lieutenant Dan Choi, who outed himself in March 2009 on The Rachel Maddow Show.

Choi, a 2003 West Point graduate, challenged the policy on a number of fronts, from an open letter to President Obama to acts of civil disobedience.

With 38 other West Point alumni, Choi formed an organization, Knights Out, to support the repeal of DADT and "to help their alma mater educate future Army leaders on the need to accept and honor the sacrifices of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender troops."

An attractive and eloquent speaker, he energized the movement to repeal DADT through his frequent appearances at gay rights events and pride parades. His media appearances helped give a human face to the discrimination visited on glbtq servicemembers as a result of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.

On March 18, 2010, Choi and Captain Jim Pietrangelo, another outed military officer, escalated the protests against DADT by employing nonviolent direct action civil disobedience. They handcuffed themselves to the front gate of the White House. As the media covered the startling image of two soldiers handcuffed to the White House gate, they waited for the authorities to remove and arrest them.

Other gay and lesbian servicemembers who have been victimized by the DADT policy also become unlikely grassroots activists.

Captain Pietrangelo, for example, fought in Iraq in 1991 as an infantryman and returned as a JAG officer for the second Iraq War. As he was readying for a third combat tour, he was honorably discharged after being outed by a third party.

Pietrangelo sued the government, charging that the policy is unconstitutional. He appealed to the Supreme Court, but in June 2009, at the request of the Obama administration, the Supreme Court rejected the case.

Army sergeant Darren Manzella came to national attention in 2007 when he announced on the CBS newsprogram 60 Minutes that he was gay. He became the first openly gay service member on active duty to speak to the press from a war zone.

Manzella joined the U.S. Army in April 2002. In March of 2004, he deployed to Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II. Rising to the rank of Sergeant in the medical corps, he provided medical services during more than one hundred 12-hour patrols on the streets of Baghdad. While under fire, Manzella cared for Iraqi National Guardsmen, Iraqi civilians, and his fellow service members. He earned the Combat Medical Badge, a swift promotion, and several other awards honoring his courage and devotion to duty.

He returned for a second tour of duty in the Middle East in 2006 and was stationed in Kuwait when he appeared on 60 Minutes.

Manzella had earlier come out to his commander and members of his unit, but the Army had declined to discharge him, illustrating the military's unofficial policy of discharging openly gay servicemembers only after (or if) they returned from dangerous assignments in war zones. Such a practice gave the lie to the argument that DADT was necessary to preserve unit cohesion.

After his appearance on national television, Manzella was speedily discharged. However, he continued his activism against the policy.

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