WASHINGTON, Dec. 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- This Sunday's edition of the award-winning CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes will include a story by correspondent Lesley Stahl about reports from Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) of a growing number of openly lesbian and gay troops in the United States armed forces. The segment will also feature an exclusive interview with SLDN client and openly gay Army Sergeant Darren Manzella, who has served a tour of duty in Iraq, and is now serving inside Kuwait. Manzella tells Stahl that he has received overwhelming support from both his fellow soldiers and superiors since coming out last year. Stahl's report also looks at SLDN's work in assisting service personnel such as Manzella, and the organization's campaign to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." In addition to Manzella, Sunday's segment also features SLDN board member Cholene Espinoza, an Air Force Academy graduate and the second woman to fly the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft. (Photo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20071213/DC09872 ) "Sergeant Manzella's story illustrates the arbitrary and uneven enforcement of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" said SLDN executive director Aubrey Sarvis. "Many commands, like Manzella's, recognize that their lesbian and gay troops are instrumental in the work of defending our country. Those commanders, who want to do the right thing and retain good troops, should not have their hands tied by this unfair law. Our nation's commitment to fairness and civil liberties demands an end to this law, and our national security interests are best served by repealing it." Since 1993, more than 12,000 men and women have been dismissed under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), nearly 800 of those dismissed had skills deemed 'mission-critical' by the Pentagon, including 322 language experts, 58 of whom were proficient in Arabic. In FY2005 alone, the armed forces dismissed at least 49 medical professionals, like Manzella, under the law. While "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" dismissals have declined by 50% since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, an average of two service members are dismissed under the law every day. Enforcement, SLDN reports, is largely arbitrary and varies from command to command. A recent SLDN survey found that troops in deployable units were far less likely to be dismissed under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" than those stationed stateside. Less than 25% of discharges in 2005, the SLDN analysis revealed, were from units deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan. Sergeant Manzella joined the Army in April 2002 and deployed to Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II, in March of 2004. He provided medical coverage during more than one hundred 12-hour patrols on the streets of Baghdad. While under fire, Manzella cared for Iraqi National Guardsmen, Iraqi civilians and his fellow service members, earning him the Combat Medical Badge, a swift promotion and several other awards honoring his courage and duty to service. He returned for a second tour of duty in the Middle East in 2006 and is currently stationed in Kuwait. "It is perhaps only once in a lifetime that we are given the opportunity to do something of paramount importance, and I am honored to be able to use my voice to speak out on behalf of the countless lesbian and gay Americans currently serving in our armed forces," said Manzella. "More and more of us are serving openly -- and proudly -- in our nation's military. It is important that Americans hear our stories, see our commitment to our nation and understand the harm 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' unnecessarily inflicts on our military and our troops. I am grateful to Lesley Stahl and 60 Minutes for the opportunity to share my story, and grateful to SLDN for their fight on my behalf during my time in the Army." SLDN also announced today that Manzella will join its national speakers' bureau and join other veterans who are helping to build public support for repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." "All of us at SLDN are enormously proud of Sergeant Manzella for risking so much in telling his story," said Sarvis. "We are honored to stand up, every day, for patriotic troops like him; and we are more dedicated than ever to repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' once and for all." 60 Minutes airs this Sunday at 7/6c on CBS. For more information on the program, visit http://www.cbsnews.com. For more information on Sergeant Manzella, Sunday's story and SLDN's campaign to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," visit www.sldn.org. Editors note: Sergeant Manzella's media and public appearances are handled exclusively by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. For photos, biographical information, interviews, public appearance information and updates on Manzella's case, please contact Steve Ralls at (202) 328-3244, ext. 116, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is a national, non-profit legal services, watchdog and policy organization dedicated to ending discrimination against and harassment of military personnel affected by 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and related forms of intolerance. For more information, visit www.sldn.org.
SOURCE Servicemembers Legal Defense Network