Every organization needs at least one Anna Curren. Last Thursday evening, in the opulent Mission Hills home of Bob Meinzer and Steve McIntee, Curren, who makes up for her small frame with oversized energy, climbed up a few stairs off the house's front hallway and went to work encouraging the two-dozen or so assembled guests to dig a little deeper into their pockets.
“I don't know how to do this,” she said. “Ask for a show of hands? I don't want to embarrass anybody.”
She clearly knew how to “do this.” Curren, a member of the board of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) and a generous giver to liberal causes in her own right, was asking the guests to go beyond the price they paid just to drink wine and nibble on abundant appetizers, and she was vowing to match whatever amount was pledged that night, including the $7,500 McIntee and Meinzer gave the day before. The cause? The SLDN's renewed campaign to repeal the U.S. military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.
“I know you paid $125 to come here,” Curren cajoled, “but I really think we can do a lot better than that.”
McIntee, a prolific fund-raiser for Democratic causes and candidates, offered another grand, and his lead was followed by a series of offers that totaled at least $6,000. Even when one fellow explained that he was there representing someone who'd already given $1,000, Curren was unrelenting: “How much are you gonna give?” By the end of the exchange, the poor guy's bank account was $500 lighter.
Curren's shakedown was the reception's climax, following opening remarks by Congressmember Susan Davis; a talk by Darren Manzella, a gay Army sergeant discharged under Don't Ask, Don't Tell after he was interviewed on 60 Minutes; and comments from SLDN executive director Aubrey Sarvis, who's spearheading the new campaign to overturn the policy, which SLDN says has resulted in the discharge of more than 12,500 gay and lesbian American servicemembers since its 1993 inception.
The plan, Sarvis said, is to reintroduce the Military Readiness Enhancement Act—which would get rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell—in February in both the House and the Senate, with Ted Kennedy sponsoring the Senate version (the House bill is currently in committee). Sarvis said the goal is to raise between $8 million and $10 million for the fight during the next two years. “We'll have all the traditional elements of a political campaign,” he said, “because we do have opponents and they are determined to stop us.”
Some of those opponents are in important places. Davis, who held hearings on the policy in July and chairs the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel, noted that the full House Armed Services Committee is a “very conservative” bunch, led by Missouri Democrat Ike Skelton. “He really does not feel comfortable with this issue, quite frankly,” Davis said. “But we are educating him and working with him.” Sarvis remarked that the Senate Armed Services Committee is no less conservative.
As President-elect Barack Obama has said, Don't Ask, Don't Tell is counterproductive, particularly in wartime—and thanks to the reckless foreign policies of our extremely lame lame-duck president, which has stretched our forces nearly to the snapping point, the U.S. military needs all the able-bodied men and women it can get. What it doesn't need is a discriminatory policy that unnecessarily purges soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen and women who are willing to risk their lives for their country and its citizens and whose only transgression was letting it slip to someone that they happen to be gay.
Polls show that the public overwhelmingly supports allowing openly gay people to serve in the military, and even opposition within the ranks has dissipated. Manzella said each time he told someone, even several links up the chain of command, he was relieved to learn that they didn't give a damn. The percentage that does care can only get smaller as acceptance continues its slow sweep across the country (despite the recent setback in California).
Certainly, no one would mind having his life saved by a gay comrade.
It you believe, as does Gen. John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and more than 100 other retired generals and admirals, that the time for discrimination in the military has come and gone, go to www.sldn.org and sign the petition in support of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act. If you can give money for the cause, great—but if you're strapped, we suggest you steer clear of Anna Curren.