Johnson City native co-chairs Military Equality Alliance
The Military Equality Alliance is a first-ever grassroots political organization working to lift the ban on GLBT service members in the United States military.
Their mission is to “build a grassroots movement at the state and local levels.” They are directing their energies toward advocating an end to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy through the passage of federal legislation.
The Military Equality Alliance (MEA) is a new volunteer group of veterans, active duty military, GLBT, and allied communities coming together to engage in securing equal rights for all Americans who wish to serve in our nation’s armed forces without facing discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Military Equality Alliance originated with the Military Education Initiative (MEI), a program designed to educate veterans and promote enhanced understanding of the issues surrounding GLBT military service.
Lara Ballard, a native of Johnson City, Tenn., serves as co-chair for the Board of Directors for MEA. After receiving an Army ROTC scholarship, Ballard attended Georgetown University where she received her J.D. After graduation, she was commissioned as a Captain in the United States Army, honorably serving our nation from 1991-1995. During her military service, she was assigned to the U.S. Army Air Defense Artillery; the 1st Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment (PATRIOT) in Kaiserslatuern, Germany; Operation Southern Watch in Kuwait; and went on to serve as Platoon Leader, Executive Officer, and Battalion Assistant S-3/Operations Officer before leaving active duty in 1995 to attend Columbia Law School. She later clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and currently practices law in Washington, DC.
In addition to her legal work, Ballard has been involved as a volunteer and activist since 2001.
“[We want] to work with local activist, organizing states like Tennessee to hold their Senators and Representatives accountable on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ Not everyone can come to Washington, DC and lobby. We help local and state activists get organized and go to work in their states. [We] then lobby for them on the national level, providing a link between Washington gay activists and the local population,” says Ballard.
According to the 2000 census, there are roughly 65,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender service members currently serving our country. There are 1 million GLBT veterans today.
“Being part of a military unit, the members of that unit need to know each other, in a more intimate way because they work so close together. There has to be that level of trust,” notes Ballard.
The Military Equality Alliance is currently advocating for a Sergeant whose military career has spanned 19 years. Last year while stationed in California, she broke up with her long time partner, and her ex-partner contacted the military, telling them that the Sergeant is a lesbian. As a result, an American who had served her Nation bravely for 19 years was booted out of the Army, losing all of her benefits including her retirement pay. Financially and emotionally, the life she had been building for nineteen years had completely changed with one phone call.
California has a large population of gay veterans, Ballard explained. “The reason there is such a large GLBT population in San Francisco is that during World War II, San Francisco was a major out-processing center for the military returning from the War. At that time, there was a small GLBT community in San Francisco. As service members were processing out, those that were GLBT fell in love with the city and decided to stay.”
The current DADT policy was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton in 1993. Although there were good intentions, providing GLBT military personnel at least one route to serve honorably, the requirement regarding the secrecy surrounding sexual orientation doomed the policy to failure. Today there is compelling evidence that GLBT service members are serving openly in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of the world with no negative effects on unit cohesion, combat readiness, or effectiveness. Several countries like Israel, Australia, Great Britain, and Canada have lifted their bans on GLBT service in their military branches with no discernible ill effects.
MEA employs a unique strategy that helps locate and recruit GLBT veterans and their allies that are willing to help repeal DADT. They quality train activists in lobbying, researching and targeting areas for outreach, organizing techniques, and public relations concerning issues on gays in the military. They offer guidance and support to help activists within their districts and states. GLBT activists are taught to use higher levels of activism and advocacy proficiency through workbooks that function as correspondence courses. They train activists to formulate sound information and use this information as a valuable source of intelligence by other activist organizations throughout the country.
MEA encourages members to write out points when speaking with their respective members of congress. They must hear from GLBT constituents in their districts concerning needed changes in the policies regarding military services. In addition, MEA hopes to create a network of activists nationwide that will be a formidable asset to the GLBT community, long after DADT is no longer in effect.
Visit MEA online at www.militaryequality.org or call them at 214-276-1303.