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Lesbian loses suit against Air Force

A federal judge on Wednesday refused to stop the Air Force from kicking out a Spokane officer who is a lesbian, saying that the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for homosexuals “remains constitutional.”

Maj. Margaret Witt, a reservist flight nurse with the 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at McChord Air Force Base, filed suit in April, saying that she wanted to continue serving her country. She’s been in the Air Force for nearly 19 years.

“I want the chance to do the job that I trained for, for over half my life,” she said at the time. “It’s who I am.”

She said Wednesday that she treasures her Air Force career and that the military is trying to oust “a proven asset” at a time when it clearly needs medical workers.

Her lawyers had asked for an injunction against the Air Force and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

But on Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald B. Leighton dismissed the lawsuit. He said that Witt’s lawyers hadn’t shown that her rights have been violated.

“We’re disappointed by the ruling,” said Doug Honig, with the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Witt. He said Witt plans to appeal the case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the summer of 2004, the Air Force was tipped off to the fact that Witt – a decorated nurse whose photo is used in recruiting brochures – had been in a lesbian relationship from 1997 through August 2003. Witt’s partner was a civilian with whom she shared a home in Spokane.

In November 2004, Witt’s commander told her that the Air Force had concluded that she is a lesbian and was initiating separation proceedings. She was told to clean out her desk and to stop reporting for assignments at McChord. Her pay and points toward promotion and a pension were also halted. Witt has asked for an Air Force hearing to appeal the decision, but as of oral arguments in Tacoma last month, such a hearing still had not been scheduled.

“The Court is not unsympathetic to the situation in which Maj. Witt currently finds herself,” Judge Leighton wrote. “Within the military context, she did not draw attention to her sexual orientation, and her colleagues value her contribution to their unit and apparently want her back. She has served her country faithfully and with distinction. It is tempting to accept plaintiff’s urging to apply (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) narrowly within the context of Margaret Witt’s individual circumstances. This the Court cannot do.”

Witt said she’s hoping for a different ruling from the 9th Circuit, and that, in the meantime, she’s gratified by the encouragement she’s received.

“I’m just astounded at the support I get just out of the blue from strangers and well-wishers that I’ve served with all over the world,” she said. She said she’s gotten calls from people she’s served with at every duty station she’s ever been to.

“It’s just overwhelming,” she said.

Staff writer Bill Morlin contributed to this report. Richard Roesler can be reached at (360) 664-2598 or by e-mail at srwestside@comcast.net.

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