White House bars gay groups from military families event

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta testifies on the attack on the US facilities in Benghazi, Libya, before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on February 7, 2013. CBS/AP

Don't Ask Don't Tell, Gays, Military
CBS/AP

Updated 2:44 p.m. Eastern Time

Today marks the launch of Michelle Obama and Jill Biden's "Joining Forces" initiative to "support and honor America's service members and their families." The two women, along with President Obama and Vice President Biden, will make remarks at the White House in conjunction with the kickoff.

Shortly before the event began at noon, Servicemembers United, which represents gay and lesbian troops and veterans, complained that the White House had barred civilian representatives of gay and lesbian military families from the  event.

"It is rather unfortunate that both East Wing and West Wing staff have refused to allow a representative of gay military families to even be in the room at an event that is supposed to honor their commitment and sacrifice," said Alexander Nicholson, Executive Director of Servicemembers United.

Kristina Schake, Communications Director for the First Lady, explained the decision this way in an email to CBS News.

"The President has been crystal clear that the Administration is moving forward with the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' quickly and efficiently," she said. "However, it still remains the law. The White House, including the First Lady and Dr. Biden, look forward to working with the families of gay and lesbian service members after certification occurs and repeal goes into effect."

Nicholson, from Servicemembers United, complained in his statement that "[t]he First Lady's office has used the continued enforcement of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' as an excuse to exclude us, even though they know that 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' does not apply to the civilians who work at their advocacy and service organizations."

"Many straight organizational representatives have been invited to this event, including some with few or no military families in their constituencies," he added. "Yet our thousands of gay military families are shut out from being represented today because of nothing but lingering political homophobia. Gay and lesbian military families should not have to fight this hard just to stand in the back of the room in 2011."

The White House guest list for the event includes a number of business leaders who do not appear to have a direct connection to the military. A White House official told Hotsheet that those individuals represent organizations that have made major commitments to the "Joining Forces" initiative.

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