Young Gay Americans Denied the Right to Serve Their Country with Openness and Dignity

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SOULFORCE PRESS RELEASE: August 22, 2006
For Immediate Release
Contact: Jacob Reitan, 952-212-8311, jake@soulforce.org
Haven Herrin, 469-867-5725, haven@soulforce.org
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(Austin, Chicago, Oklahoma City) — This Tuesday and Wednesday, in cities across the nation, gay youth are attempting to enlist in the military without lying about who they are or whom they love.

These young leaders are part of the nationally-coordinated Right to Serve campaign, which aims to call attention to the injustice — as well as the human and administrative costs — of the federal government’s thirteen-year-old "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy.

Eighteen-year-old Rebecca Solomon feels this injustice keenly. Solomon’s family has a long tradition of military service that includes her father, uncle, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Rebecca recently graduated from a college preparatory high school in Houston and scored above the 95th percentile on the SAT. When Rebecca met with an Army recruiter in Austin, Texas on Tuesday, she was initially warmly received — until she informed the officer that she is a lesbian. After Rebecca shared the truth about her identity, the officer promptly terminated the interview.

According to Solomon, she and her fellow Right to Serve campaigners understand that they will likely be barred from enlisting, but "we feel it is important for people to understand that there are perfectly qualified candidates who are being denied the right to serve." A recent study conducted by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network concluded that the U.S. military could attract as many as 41,000 new recruits if gays and lesbians in the military were able to be open about their sexual orientation.

As Solomon was attempting to enlist in Texas, three other young gay Americans, Rob Fojtik, Kelsey Pacha, and Rachelle Faroul, were attempting to enlist in Chicago. Each of the young adults met briefly with Army Reserve recruiting officers but could not be processed due to the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy."

On Wednesday in Oklahoma City, Michael Cich will attempt to enlist along with his brother, Robert Cich. Robert, who is heterosexual, has long wanted to serve his country, but he will only enlist as long as his brother, who is gay, is afforded the same opportunity.

Although openly gay youth have not yet been successful in their attempts to enlist, this is not the end of the road. For Solomon and others, the next step is to ask their congresspeople to sign on as sponsors of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act. If requests to meet with their Representatives are denied, Right to Serve campaigners are also planning to rally local youth — gay and straight — for sit-ins at the military recruiting centers they visited today. According to Kelsey Pacha, the campaign’s actions are meant to "call attention to the fact that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is discrimination. We feel it is time for America to join the 29 other countries world-wide that have integrated their militaries."

The Right to Serve campaign is sponsored by Soulforce, a national nonviolent organization dedicated to ending political and religious oppression of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons.

For more information on the Right to Serve campaign, please go to www.righttoserve.org.

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