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Military seeks stopgaps to deal with gays

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Pentagon signaled it was aiming for a temporary fix to"don't ask, don't tell" before President Obama fulfills his promise to repeal the policy, as an Arabic translator was dismissed from the Army Wednesday for being openly gay.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department earned praise from gay rights groups for avoiding the pursuit of a transgender discrimination case.

Lt. Dan Choi, an Arabic translator who has been the public face for advocates who want to see "don't ask, don't tell" overturned, was recommended to be discharged Wednesday under the policy banning gays fromserving openly in the military. It must be approved by the Army before it is final.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters this week the Pentagon is looking for a "more humane way to apply the law until the law gets changed."

Also Wednesday, the Justice Department did not appeal a ruling upholding a transgender discrimination lawsuit against the Library of Congress.

Diane Schroer, an Army Special Forces veteran of 25 years, had been awarded the maximum allowed compensation by a D.C. district court after suing for discrimination because the Library of Congress had rescinded a job offerafter she revealed she would be undergoing a sex-change operation. An official had told her she wasn't a "good fit" after learning about the pending surgery.

Justice spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said the solicitor general decided not to appeal the district court's ruling based on the facts and legal arguments.

Sharon McGowan, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's LGBT Project said she agrees with the Justice Department because it was a "clear cut" case, but added there are many more examples of discrimination, and also noted Lt. Choi's plight.

"It is always a difficult thing to see individuals who want to serve their country being denied the opportunity to do that based solely on who they are," she said.

"Don't ask, don't tell" was passed under President Clinton in the 1990s. Mr. Obama made a campaign promise to repeal the law but has not yet acted beyond saying he still wants to end the ban.

Mr. Gates was asked about the policy while traveling from Germany Tuesday, according to a transcript released by the Pentagon. He said the policy "doesn't leave much to the imagination for a lot of flexibility," and that the Pentagon is looking into stopgap measures until it is overturned.

Lt. Choi wrote a letter distributed by the gay rights group Courage Campaign telling supporters of the "bad news."

"After 10 years of service to our country - including leading combat patrols, rebuilding schools and translating Arabic in Iraq for 15 months - the Federal Recognition Board issued its recommendation on Tuesday that I be discharged from the Army for 'moral and professional dereliction' under the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy," he wrote.

Courage Campaign said more than 300,000 people have signed up to supportLt. Choi.

But groups such as the Center for Military Readiness say assertions that the policy hurts national security are bogus, and more than 1,100 retired flag and general officers for the military have lobbied Mr. Obama and Congress to stop any attempts at allowing gays to serve openly.

On Monday, Mr. Obama addressed 300 gays and lesbians at the White House, saying he understands their frustration with the lag in fulfilling gay rights campaign promises.

Evan Low, the Campbell, Calif., vice mayor, was in attendance Monday. He said he had been worried Mr. Obama was "backpedaling" on his promises, but welcomed Mr. Gates' remarks on "don't ask, don't tell."

"We're all hoping for the best and we're starting to see some signs," Mr. Low said.

• Ben Conery contributed to this report.