Navy To SLDN: ?Never Mind!?

by Peter Cassels

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday January 26, 2006

NEWPORT, R.I. -- Naval Station Newport?s weekly base publication rejected an advertisement from Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, the advocacy organization for gays in the military, despite having previously published ads at no charge from religious right organizations under the same charitable appeal umbrella.

The publication, Navalog, did so in violation of established Navy policy, an SLDN spokesperson told EDGE Jan. 25. As it turns out, the entire incident was the result of a mistake by a Navalog editorial staff member, Steve Ralls, the SLDN spokesperson, reported. The story sounds like a ?Weekend Update? item on an old ?Saturday Night Live? TV show.

The charitable appeal is called the Combined Federal Campaign and is similar to United Way company employee campaigns, only it?s for federal government workers and any tax-exempt nonprofit organization can join.

The Newport base is the U.S. Navy?s largest education center, home to such facilities as the Naval War College, Surface Warfare Officers School Command, Naval Undersea Warfare Center, the Naval Justice School and the Naval Academy Preparatory School.

Soon, as a part of base closings and relocations recently approved by Congress, Naval Station Newport will be even larger. It will welcome back the Officer Candidate School, located in Pensacola, Fla., since President Richard Nixon in the 1970s reduced the size of what was then called the Newport Navy Base, at the time one of two U.S. Atlantic Fleet headquarters locations. Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, the world?s largest navy base, has been the sole site of the fleet headquarters ever since.

Almost any non-profit organization recognized by the Internal Revenue Service can apply for recognition and listing by the CFC, Ralls told EDGE.

?In turn, that organization is included on a list of charities employees can choose from, and then indicate an amount they would like to donate to the charitable organization,? Ralls explained. ?The CFC list includes both progressive and conservative organizations, such as the AFA, Planned Parenthood, Focus on the Family and SLDN. CFC fundraising is a significant source of [donations to] SLDN each year, and the opportunity to reach military audiences through a military publication is key for us.?

?Visibility for CFC-approved organizations seems to have been the rule until an organization in the [LGBT] community asked for equal access," SLDN Executive Director C. Dixon Osburn said in a statement. ?Service members turn to military publications like Navalog for information on services and organizations important to them, and SLDN is the only organization providing legal aid to military personnel affected by Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Our request for equal visibility should not be a matter of such concern that it requires the intervention of the JAG and Public Affairs offices. Rather than accept an LGBT advertisement, Navalog seems to have shut down access for all charitable organizations. In doing so, it has also done a disservice to its readers.?

?Visibility for CFC-approved organizations seems to have been the rule until an organization in the [LGBT] community asked for equal access."

Navalog had run unpaid advertising submitted by two conservative groups, the American Family Association and Focus on the Family. Both are virulently antigay and have taken positions against gays in the military and civil marriage. The publication?s Nov. 11, 2005 issue included an AFA ad. A Judge Advocate General spokesperson told SLDN Jan. 25 that the weekly published the ads in violation of the newspaper?s own policies.

When SLDN inquired about whether Navalog would publish its advertising, SLDN was told it accepted CFC ads on a ?space available? basis. On Jan. 5, Navalog indicated it would accept the group?s advertising at no charge.

SLDN then submitted to Navalog its 2005 CFC campaign ad, featuring veterans discharged under the military?s Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, for inclusion in future issues.

On Jan.12, Richard Alexander, a Navy public affairs officer affiliated with the publication, responded that ?JAG has decided to no longer run any CFC ads in the Navalog.?

The Newport JAG spokesperson told SLDN Jan. 25 that Navalog ?should have never accepted the American Family Association or Focus on the Family ad and in doing so violated its own policies on advertising,? Ralls told EDGE. ?It seems that Richard Alexander had mistakenly accepted advertising from those two organizations, and when the JAG office provided an explanation that base policy was not to do so, Mr. Alexander translated that as ?JAG has decided to no longer run any CFC ads in the Navalog? in his e-mail message to SLDN.?

?We're satisfied that the Navalog publication made an honest mistake and appreciate the JAG?s clarification that, indeed, it had not discontinued a CFC ad program, as that program never actually existed in the first place,? Ralls continued. ?We're disappointed that Mr. Alexander did not properly respond to SLDN's requests for information, or properly explain what happened with those ads, but we do believe it was a mistake and not an intentional slight of SLDN by the Navalog.?

Navalog will not run any CFC ads, Ralls added Jan. 26, in response to an EDGE inquiry. ?The placement of the AFA and Focus on the Family ads was a mistake made by someone on staff at the paper,? he reported. ?Navalog?s policy is to place only ads from the CFC/United Way itself at no charge, but not to extend that offer to specific charities within CFC. Someone at Navalog misunderstood the policy, and we?re satisfied that the prior ad was placed by mistake.?

Navalog has offered to run any paid SLDN advertising, just as they have offered the same to conservative organizations, Ralls said.

Peter Cassels is a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association's Excellence in Journalism award. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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