Missouri Congressman Ike Skelton might have shifted uncomfortably in his seat last night, as President Barack Obama neared the end of his State of the Union. "This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are," Obama said. "It's the right thing to do."
Skelton doesn't think so. At least, not according to a recent interview on C-SPAN.
In 1993, Skelton was a key player in drafting the controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which asks gay and lesbian soldiers to stay closeted if they want to serve. The Missouri Democrat told "Newsmakers," earlier this month that he is "personally not in favor of changing the law." But more importantly, the chair of the House Armed Services Committee added, he won't hold a hearing on DADT.
To show their discontent, a handful of activists and government officials rallied in Barney Allis Plaza this morning, just outside a rotary club meeting where Skelton was a guest.
When Beth Schissel graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1989 she was part of just the 10th class of women. After serving five years, she was awarded a scholarship to go to medical school, groomed to become "a leader in military medicine."
Then, during her studies, she realized she was in love with her best friend -- who also happened to be a woman. Despite all the accolades she's earned in her career, she knew her ability to serve would be undermined by her sexual orientation.
She decided to keep quiet, but "an individual decided to threaten to out me to the military," she said. The harassment became so intense that she finally came out on her own. "By virtue of that," she said, "the military spent two years to kick me out." Just one day before September 11th, 2001, her discharge was finalized. She would have willingly served in theater, treating soldiers and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Instead, I was cast aside," she said.
"There's just no rhyme or reason in continuing Don't Ask, Don't Tell," she concluded.
Doug Gray, the protest organizer, pointed out that two other Missouri policymakers -- U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II -- have indicated their support for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. But Skelton, by indicating his unwillingness to hold a hearing in the Armed Services Committee, could hold up important debate. "We're asking him to reconsider," he said.
Jackson County Legislator Scott Burnett had the same request. "I'm not asking Ike to vote for repeal," he said. "I ask that he simply hold a hearing."
Jan Marcason, a Kansas City city council member, wasn't so politic in her sentiment. "Firing qualified U.S. servicemen and women because they are gay has to stop," she said.
Theresa Garza Ruiz went even further. The Jackson County legislator drew on her own military background, saying "it's not about sexual orientation; it's about whether you can carry your weight and do your job." She also hit Skelton where it could hurt; implying his stance could erode support in a tough reelection year. "People in the LGBT community have stuck by him," she said. "Now we're asking him to stick by us."
Lara Battles, a spokesperson for Skelton and the House Armed Services Committee, didn't discount the possibility of a hearing. "Our committee will do something," she said. "But it may well be at the military personnel subcommittee."