We're here! We're queer! We're... in Iraq?

As the president drags his feet on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad throws a gay pride party

Published May 22, 2009 3:23PM (EDT)

Openly gay soldiers may be banned from serving in Iraq, but that hasn't stopped another American government group stationed in the country from celebrating Pride Month (which customarily happens in June) a few days early. As Al Kamen of the Washington Post reports, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad will throw its "first-ever Gay Pride Theme Party" next Friday. An e-mail invitation invites employees to "Come celebrate the start of Summer with color...and in costume!...Dress in drag or as a gay icon. All are welcome...Prizes will be awarded for two contests: Best Dressed Gay Icon and Best Lip Synch Performance."

I couldn't be happier that a government organization is so supportive of its LGBT employees. But there is something distinctly odd about a U.S. Embassy-sponsored gay pride event taking place in the same city where thousands of American soldiers remain subject to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT).

In the past few weeks, the media has lambasted the Obama administration for failing to follow up on a promised repeal of DADT. Last night on "The Rachel Maddow Show" (clip posted below), Ana Maria Cox talked about White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs' evasiveness on the issue. Asked for an update on DADT Wednesday, Gibbs told Cox that Obama was "working with the Secretary of State and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to change 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'" Later, the Pentagon said there was "no sense of immediate developments" on the issue. On Thursday, Gibbs, in a tellingly shaky response, claimed that the Pentagon had corrected its statement and active talks are happening:

The President is [pause] involved in these discussions. It was the president's commitment to overturn the policy that's not in our national interest. That is [pause] the reason for these discussions and for the effort to overturn this. I think the notion that somehow--the reason Congress is involved is the only durable and lasting way to overturn a policy is to do it by law.

Cox then asked Gibbs why this was so when President Harry S. Truman was able to overturn the policy of racial segregation in the military without the support of Congress. He replied, "I'm out of my depth as a lawyer," mumbled something about legal procedings and admitted he didn't know what kind of DADT legislation was currently in Congress. As Maddow and Cox discussed, while Gibbs was incorrect in saying there were legal procedings involved in Truman's desegregation of the military, it will be more difficult to get rid of DADT because it is codified law. But, as Cox points out, Obama could issue an executive order to suspend implementaton of that law. Her conclusion: "I don't think they're really waiting on Congress. I think they're waiting on the Pentagon and they're waiting on the military." If that's the case, then the Obama administration -- and openly gay soldiers across the country -- may be waiting for quite a while.

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By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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