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And I'm Renee Montagne. It was back in 1948 that President Harry Truman signed an executive order ending racial segregation in the armed forces. Sixty years later, presidential candidate Barack Obama promised to end another kind of discrimination in the military - against gay service members. But there's been no repeal yet of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, which bans openly gay members of the military. NPR's David Welna reports there's a new push underway to make that happen.
DAVID WELNA: Former Army linguist Jarrod Chlapowski told reporters at the National Press Club here in Washington yesterday that he and others are launching a national campaign, the repeal of the Clinton-era Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, which has forced 13,000 gay men and women out of the military.
Mr. JARROD CHLAPOWSKI (Former Army Linguist): Over the next two months, a group of young Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom-era vets, both gay and straight, will be touring the country, bringing the issue to America's doorstep.
WELNA: They're calling it the Voices of Honor: A Generation Under Don't Ask, Don't Tell National Tour. And it initially targets eight major cities in swing voting districts.
Army Staff Sergeant Genevieve Chase is an Afghanistan war veteran who's straight. She's joining the tour to refute the view that openly gay service members undermine troop readiness and cohesion.
Staff Sergeant GENEVIEVE CHASE (United States Army): And I'm here to tell you that gays have been and are already serving openly. Unit cohesion across the spectrum of the military is better than it has ever been, because our generation embraces diversity.
WELNA: Another veteran at the event was Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy, a former paratrooper who describes himself as a conservative Democrat. He was the first Iraq war veteran elected to Congress. Murphy's now leading efforts in the House to win support for legislation that repeals Don't Ask, Don't Tell and bans discrimination in the military based on sexual orientation.
Representative PATRICK MURPHY (Pennsylvania, Democrat): A lot of people ask me, you know, why is a straight Irish-Catholic former altar boy of the year in 1987 (unintelligible) fighting for this? 'Cause I took an oath. I took an oath as an officer. I took an oath as a congressman to support that Constitution and what that Constitution stands for — and that's equality.
WELNA: Because Congress enacted Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Murphy says Congress should repeal it. He thinks President Obama is right to defer to Capitol Hill.
Rep. MURPHY: The president has a respect of the Congress. And he understands he doesn't want to do an executive order that says, Ahh, just ignore what the Congress passed 16 years ago. He's saying, Give me a bill on my desk and I'll sign it. Now it's our job to do exactly that.
WELNA: So far, Murphy has persuaded 151 Democrats and one Republican to co-sponsor his bill. And he's encouraged that Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton has promised full committee hearings on the issue. But the chairman of the Senate's armed services panel, Carl Levin, has no such plans.
Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): I haven't gone there, because there's been no reason to go there until I think that there's a real chance of ending it, you know, of changing the policy. And I have not felt that until recently that there was a real chance of changing this policy, 'cause the administration did not support that change at this time. I think they do support the change at a different time when they may be able to actually succeed.
WELNA: While Levin supports repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, several other key senators do not.
Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (South Carolina, Republican): Don't Ask, Don't Tell is a policy I think that's served the country well. Why should we change it?
WELNA: That's South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, who's also a prosecutor in the Air Force Reserve.
Sen. GRAHAM: I'm not going to be persuaded to change military policy by a bunch of political activists. If the military leadership tells me that Don't Ask, Don't Tell needs to be changed, I'll certainly be open-minded to that.
WELNA: Yesterday, at another National Press Club event, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, had this to say about Don't Ask, Don't Tell…
Admiral MICHAEL MULLEN (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): The strategic intent of the president is very clear. He wants to change this policy and that will also take a change in the law.
WELNA: Mullen added that if the law does change he will certainly carry it out.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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