Five homosexuals in military file suit to overturn Clinton's new gay policy

July 28, 1993|By Richard A. Serrano | Richard A. Serrano,Los Angeles Times Nelson Schwartz contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Risking their careers, five gay and lesbian members of the armed forces publicly disclosed their sexual orientation when they filed suit yesterday challenging a new Pentagon policy that automatically expels military personnel who disclose they are homosexuals.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court here, comes as Congress is moving ahead to codify a policy changing the status of homosexuals in the military.

It marks the first time that the policy drafted by President Clinton and agreed to by two key congressional committees is being challenged as unconstitutional.

"Am I risking everything? Yes," said 1st Lt. Kenneth Osborn, an 11-year veteran who serves with the Army Reserve's 304th Materiel Management Center in Los Angeles. "But I shouldn't have to hide any more. All I want to do is serve my country and not be harassed for what I am."

Added Sgt. Steven Spencer, a six-year veteran of the Army and the National Guard who is based in Seattle: "I suspect I'll be getting a phone call from my unit, if not today then tomorrow, requesting me to come down and begin discharge proceedings."

Their attorneys said the restrictions against homosexuals in the military violate the rights of gays and lesbians to equal justice and free speech.

"American citizens should be judged according to their abilities, not their skin color, their gender or their sexual orientation," said William R. Rubinstein, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's national Lesbian and Gay Rights Project.

He said he fully expects the military to discharge the five service members, and even to attempt to learn the identity of two other plaintiffs who were not named. Lt. Col. Doug Hart, a Pentagon spokesman, said service members who disclose they are gay before the policy takes effect Oct. 1 will be placed on stand-by reserve status and later reviewed on an case-by-case basis for possible discharge.

Also yesterday, the House Armed Services Committee approved proposal for gays in the military that is consistent with the policy agreed to earlier this month by President Clinton and the Senate Armed Services Committee. The House panel's backing for the policy followed an impassioned two-hour debate and the committee's 43-12 vote against a proposal to end the current ban.

The vote, the first recorded roll call in Congress on the issue, underscored the lopsided opposition among lawmakers to the idea of allowing homosexuals to serve in the military without restriction.

Maryland's only congressman on the committee, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, of Western Maryland's Sixth District, voted to approve the policy consistent with President Clinton's.

Rep. Ronald V. Dellums, D-Calif., chairman of the House committee, sought unsuccessfully to waive all prohibitions against homosexuals in the military. But his measure was overwhelmingly defeated by a majority of committee members -- including Mr. Bartlett.

Their compromise states that while enlistees will not be asked about their sexual orientation, any homosexual conduct or even voluntary disclosure of a person's homosexual orientation are grounds for dismissal.

Other plaintiffs named in the suit were Navy Reserve Lt. Richard von Wohld of Naval Air Station, Moffett Field, Calif.; 1st Lt. Donita Holloway of the New Mexico National Guard, and Air Force Staff Sgt. Harold McCarthy of March Air Force Base, Calif.

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