From Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) to moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), many substantial questions raised at last week's hearing regarding the future of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy related to the experience of other nations that have ended their bans on openly gay and lesbian soldiers. The Palm Center is taking action to answer those questions, announcing a spring summit in D.C. to bring together military and civilian experts who have knowledge of those nations' experiences.
Christopher Neff, a spokesman for The Palm Center, said on Monday, Feb. 8, "Our goal was to get people who had direct knowledge and expertise" about implementing an end to bans on openly gay service and running military operations without such bans. The center already has confirmed the participation of British and Israeli experts, two countries that allow openly gay or lesbian service. The summit is to be held sometime before Memorial Day, depending on the schedules of attendees.
Aaron Belkin, director of The Palm Center, said in a statement, "As military and political leaders anticipate the end of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' the lessons from the twenty-five foreign forces that allow open gay service are instructive."
Neff said a two-tiered approach is being taken as the center considers which experts are being asked to attend.
"It's important to have senior military leaders," he said, "but it's also important to have the people who, on a day-to-day basis, can answer the questions that people have."
For example, Neff said, a British veteran who helped with the implementation of the end of that nation's ban on gay service will be attending, as will a person who has worked with the Behavioral Science Department of the Israeli Defense Force.
Neff said that members of the Pentagon working group charged with examining the implementation of a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will be invited to the summit, as will congressional leaders. Depending on interest, Neff said that a closed-door congressional briefing might be held so that members can "ask questions without restraint."
The Palm Center has called for a quick end to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and has criticized the timeline for the working group announced by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at last week's congressional hearing. The working group, Gates said, is to report its findings about repeal implementation by the end of this year.
The Palm Center's Neff said of the summit's timing, "Two months is about as fast as you can put together something to put forward to members of Congress." He cited the difficulty of the center's efforts – as a nongovernmental organization – in "reaching out to foreign governments and foreign militaries" as leading to the lag between the congressional hearing and the center's planned summit.
But, Neff added, "If the government's pace picked up, we would certainly pick up our pace."
The Palm Center, a research institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara, also announced plans to release "a new, 150-page study on the status of gays and lesbians in foreign military forces around the world" in the coming days.