Monday, April 11, 2005

Today’s Surprise

Well, here’s a pleasant — though not totally unexpected — piece of news: my hard-right Republican Cuban/American congresswoman, Ilena Ros-Lehtinen has called for the repeal of “don’t ask / don’t tell.”

At odds with her party’s leadership, Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami is urging the Pentagon to allow gay men and lesbians to serve in the military — a direct challenge to the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“We’ve tried the policy. I don’t think it works. And we’ve spent a lot of money enforcing it,” said Ros-Lehtinen, a member of the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, who Tuesday co-sponsored a bill allowing gays to serve.

“We investigate people. Bring them up on charges. Basically wreck their lives,” she told The Herald. “People who’ve signed up to serve our country. We should be thanking them.”

Although her support won’t change the law overnight, it represents a dramatic break with Republican leadership over a hot-button issue that has split both parties and the nation.

Ros-Lehtinen — with House Republicans Christopher Shays of Connecticut and Jim Kolbe of Arizona — joins 70 Democrats in support of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, introduced last month by Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., to repeal the longtime gay ban.


Since 2000, her congressional district has included Monroe County and Key West, with its large, politically active gay population. Ros-Lehtinen has taken a leadership role in backing pro-gay legislation. She has co-sponsored or supported:

• A federal hate-crimes act.

• A bill that would protect gays from federal employment discrimination.

• Laws that increased funding for HIV/AIDS prevention.


Among the congresswoman’s supporters is former acting U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen — her husband.

Lehtinen received a Purple Heart for severe facial injuries he suffered in 1971 during Army combat in Vietnam. He spent 18 months in hospitals, much of that time unable to see. Military nurses cared for him. One nurse served in Vietnam and spent 20 years with the Army. But when her commanders learned she was a lesbian, she was discharged.

“She was the kind of nurse who could have saved my life in Vietnam,” Lehtinen, 59, said Saturday. “She had served and saved lives. Back in the States, we find reason to kick her out. Anybody who can perform, the country needs. Gays can perform just as well — no better, no worse — than anybody. And the military can handle it better than anybody.”

Sexual orientation makes no difference, Lehtinen said, especially in combat.

“It was tough and sweaty. What was always on your mind was mines…. Hoofing through the brush, you weren’t thinking abut sex with anybody.”

(Speak for yourself, Dexter; some people like it tough and sweaty…)

It’s good to have Ilena on board with this. It’s not enough to get me to vote for her, but at least she’s aware of the stupidity of the rule and the impact it has on morale in the armed forces, not to mention the fact that if she ever wants to go to Key West again, they’ll at least let her get past Southard Street.