First Lady Michelle Obama “looks forward to including” openly gay service members in her national military families initiative with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy set to expire in less than 24 hours.
The campaign, Joining Forces, is a multi-prong national program launched in April by the First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden to support military families through public service outreach and partnerships with some of the nation’s largest corporations, among other efforts.
“The First Lady and Dr. Biden will continue to recognize and honor the families of all service members, as they have been doing since the beginning of Joining Forces,” Kristina Schake, Mrs. Obama’s communications director, said in a statement to The Advocate.
“After the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell takes effect, Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden look forward to including openly gay and lesbian service members in events to recognize their service to the nation, as well as the service of their families,” Schake said.
The statement is similar to one made just prior to the White House launch event for Joining Forces in April. At that time, the White House had cited that DADT remained in effect and precluded participation by gay service members or their representative advocacy groups at the East Room unveiling of the initiative.
That decision drew criticism from some gay service member advocacy groups who said that inclusion would have been a symbolic opportunity to recognize families of gay troops — families who likely would not have been able to participate in on-base Joining Forces events prior to DADT repeal. “At the moment, I can’t even buy a stamp on base,” one partner of a gay service member said in April. “That’s pretty sad. Our primary interest is just being treated the same as other military families. We’re not looking for anything novel beyond that.”
As well as a general awareness campaign focused on the challenges that military families face, Joining Forces works with private employers such as Wal-Mart to secure military spouse job transfers resulting from new duty assignments. It also promotes greater inclusion of military families in entertainment programming via partnerships with Hollywood guilds including the Writers Guild of America and Directors Guild of America.
“[T]he truth is that as a country, we don’t always see their families, our heroes on the home front,” Mrs. Obama said at the April launch event. “These families have appealed to us, like a military mom who wrote to me and said, ‘Please don’t let Americans forget or ignore what we live with.’”
In January, the administration called on government agencies to better address issues in employment, housing, and education affecting the nation’s 2.2 million service members and their families.