Maj. Margaret Witt’s Reinstatement is a Victory But is it Bittersweet?

Published on The Daily Femme – Monday, Sept. 27, 2010

Contributed by Annamarya

On Friday, Tacoma, Wash. US District Judge Ronald Leighton ordered the Air Force to reinstate Major Margaret Witt, 46, a decorated flight and operating room nurse who, under Don’t AskDon’t Tell policy (which bars LGBTQ members to serve openly and restricts military from asking about the sexual orientation of service applicants or members), was first suspended in 2004 and discharged in 2006 after her commanders learned she and a female civilian were in a six year committed relationship. Witt, who had served for two decades when fired, originally filed in 2006 a lawsuit challenging the dismissal that was rejected by a lower court, alleging it violated her right to privacy free of government interference (according to a press release, Witt didn’t divulge her sexuality. Instead, the Air Force began investigating an allegation she was engaging “in homosexual conduct”).

In 2007, with the American Civil Liberties of Washington representing her, Witt filed an appeal and, in 2008, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco ruled the military must establish “an important government interest” – that sexuality affects unit morale, solidity, and order– in deciding to fire service members due to being openly gay (the American Psychological Association states evidence fails to link sexual orientation and military effectiveness, and comparative data from domestic police & fire departments and foreign militaries shows no “disruption or loss of mission effectiveness” when lesbians, gays and bisexuals serve openly).

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Witt’s attorneys argued during the six day trial that her firing, not sexuality, impaired the “morale, unit cohesion, and troop readiness” of her unit at McChord Air Force Base, asserting she was “well-respected and liked by her colleagues,” with troop members testifying on her behalf. Lawyers for the Air Force, however, claimed “those factors were irrelevant” and decisions by the military cannot be determined by unit referendum. In his ruling, Judge Leighton said not only would her reinstatementnot “adversely affect” unit morale or discipline but no significant evidence exists to show wounded soldiers would give a medical technician’s or flight nurse’s sexuality any weight during care.  He also praised Witt’s role in the “long-term, highly charged civil rights movement,” calling her win a “victory in the struggle.” Another victory: earlier this month, California federal district  Judge Virginia A. Phillips ruled DADT was unconstitutional in Log Cabin Republicans v. United States of America, a suit brought by the LGBTQ Republican organization on behalf of Log Cabin members who serve(d) in the military (it’s the first suit to challenge DADT on its face).

Sadly, these are bittersweet victories. While Judge Leighton’s ruling is indeed a progressive and historic one—it marks the first time a federal judge ordered to allow an openly gay person to serve in the military since DADT was approved by Congress in 1993—it comes on the heels of Republicans in Senate blocking efforts to push through a policy repeal. Also, the Justice Department is working to prevent Judge Phillips from issuing an injunction halting the policy, which has discharged over 13,000 since enacted.  Last week’s filibuster and the Department of Justice’s efforts prove members and allies of the LGBTQ community have a long way to go before equality becomes a reality for openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered service members in the US, as it is in 22 out of the 26 NATO countries that permit openly LGBTQ members to serve. This is a war that needs to be fought, especially over something as unconstitutional and discriminatory as DADT. It is clear that there is no scientific or pyschological reason to keep LGBTQ service men and women from serving their country openly and hopefully, the study of the effects related to lifting the ban that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who favors the policy repeal, and his department will publish on December 1 will further support that.

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