LGBT groups ramp up comms ahead of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' vote

WASHINGTON: LGBT organizations are reaching out to lawmakers to help secure votes for the so-called compromise repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy, which prevents openly gay Americans from serving in the military.

WASHINGTON: LGBT organizations are reaching out to lawmakers to help secure votes for the so-called compromise repeal of the “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” (DADT) policy, which prevents openly gay Americans from  serving in the military.

The repeal vote, expected before the Senate Armed Services Committee and the House of Representatives as early as May 27, would only become final following a military review to be completed December 1.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) held a press conference May 26 with five gay veterans who were discharged or opted to not re-enlist because of DADT. The veterans also handed out more than 20,000 postcards on Capitol Hill, signed by supporters from across the country.

“With the votes expected tomorrow, we wanted to put veteran voices out there and have them heard,” said Paul Guequierre, deputy press secretary for HRC. “The veterans will also be meeting with a couple of key senators this afternoon.”

CNN and Fox News were among the media that attended, added Guequierre.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), which is dedicated to ending DADT has e-mailed or mailed its 80,000 members urging them to contact key senators to help secure enough votes, said Trevor Thomas, communications director for SLDN.

It has also targeted key media with press releases and a “concentrated Op-Ed effort," added Thomas. Congressional newspaper The Hill published an Op-Ed by Aubrey Sarvis, an army veteran and executive director of SLDN, on May 26.

To help generate broader support, SLDN has been working with bloggers and online publications on a campaign called “Stories from the Frontlines: Letters to President Barack Obama.” Over the past four weeks, SLDN has been posting a daily letter to the President from a person impacted by DADT on its website and more than 50 blogs and other websites.

“This allows people to connect with this issue on a very emotional and personal level,” said Thomas. It has also generated significant media attention: celebrity blogger Perez Hilton tweeted about the series and USA Today ran one of the letters, for example.

Other LGBT groups such as Get Equal also back the repeal. Get Equal is working with Renna Communications on media relations outreach. “They are focused on getting folks engaged into talking to their elected officials,” said Cathy Renna, managing partner of Renna Communications.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) also has been using media relations to build public support for the repeal, noted Rich Ferraro, director of PR for GLAAD, in an e-mail.

“[GLAAD] has been working for years to media train soldiers who are discharged under DADT and pitch them to local and national publications and outlets—because it is these stories that are in the minds of lawmakers when they vote and these faces that help the public understand that these soldiers want nothing more than to serve the country.”

World News with Dianne Sawyer broadcast a story on May 25, for example, which featured individuals who have completed GLAAD media training, said Ferraro.

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