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Federal judge to rule on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ discharge of lesbian reservist

Federal judge to rule on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ discharge of lesbian reservist
Margaret Witt

Closing arguments concluded Tuesday in the case of a lesbian who wants to be reinstated to the Air Force Reserve in Washington state.

Former Major Margaret Witt testified on Monday in a trial at the U.S. Courthouse in Tacoma, challenging her discharge from the Air Force Reserve in 2004 under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy barring openly gay service members.

Witt was a decorated flight nurse and was serving with a reserve squadron at McChord Air Force Base when she learned she was under investigation.

In November 2004, her commanding officer told her she was being suspended for homosexual conduct.

Witt has contested her dismissal, arguing the action infringed on her constitutional rights.

After she and her long-time partner separated in the fall of 2003, Witt said she began a relationship with a married co-worker at her civilian job with Spokane Public Schools. She acknowledged that the woman, Laurie McChesney, had not yet separated from her husband, although the couple eventually divorced and Witt and McChesney now live together in Spokane.

Witt claims she adhered to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of the military and never discussed her sexuality. She said she was outed against her will when McChesney’s husband Pat wrote a letter of complaint to one of her senior officers.

The decision on whether to give Witt her job back now rests in the hands of U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton in Tacoma.

Witt’s case has already prompted one important ruling.

In 2006, Leighton rejected Witt’s claims that the Air Force violated her rights when it fired her under DADT. But an appeals court panel overruled him two years later and said the military can’t fire people for being gay unless it shows their dismissal was necessary to further military goals.

Judge Leighton is now weighing whether Witt’s firing met that standard. A ruling is expected Friday.

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