Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

As 2010 comes to a close, we can look back at the last two years of the Obama administration and huge Democrat majorities in Congress, and sort out the good, the bad, and the ugly. Part of that look back will include the lame duck session, and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) – a policy put in place 17 years ago by a Democrat-controlled Congress and signed by Democrat President Bill Clinton. The opinions of most Americans on the DADT policy can be classified into four distinct views:

Many people, a significant majority in fact, oppose DADT and support gays and lesbians serving openly in our military. Some Americans disagree with this viewpoint for many different reasons – some of which are valid. Of those who wish to see DADT go away, some would like to see it repealed immediately, while others believe we should go to great lengths to ensure that military readiness and efficiency is not compromised. On the other side of the issue, there are people who believe DADT is a good compromise which allows gays to serve, while protecting the military from political correctness and the liberal gay agenda. The fourth view is outright opposition, harkening back to a time when homosexuals were actively rooted out of the military. Those who hold this view are somewhat rare, but they exist nonetheless.

Repeal DADT Now!

The loudest voice for repeal comes from those on the far left, including the Gay Left and the myriad of organizations that encompass them. These are people who generally oppose military action abroad, support deep budget cuts within the Department of Defense, and the defunding of several aspects of our military apparatus. It seems counter-intuitive that these people would be so concerned with what goes on inside the military, but they do so under the umbrella of equal rights and equal treatment under the law. While their efforts seem noble, they often discount legitimate concerns offering few real solutions to the inevitable challenges repeal would naturally produce. Their hearts may be in the right place, but very little thought goes into the logistics behind repeal, mainly because they do not fully understand how the military works, or how these challenges may manifest themselves.

Repeal DADT – Responsibly

I am one of the many people who believe DADT should be repealed, simply because all Americans should be allowed to serve – and risk their lives – for our country, so long as they meet the physical requirements of the job and follow the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). It seems as though a majority of Americans fall into this category, feeling that the policy should be repealed responsibly, as we are in the middle of a two-front war, and a global fight against terrorism. While the definition of “responsibly” differs from person to person, it generally includes waiting until combat operations cease in Iraq and Afghanistan, or ensuring that military readiness is not impacted by repeal. I favor the latter. These people understand that repealing DADT will be an enormous undertaking by the military, and do not want to see one mission or one soldier’s safety compromised by a hasty decision or poor timing.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is Working

There are those that believe DADT is a good policy, and should remain in effect as it is. There are many people in this group who have legitimate reasons for wanting to keep the policy in place, such as navigating the logistical nightmare of living arrangements and battlefield hygiene as just two examples. Other issues brought forward by this group, such as working alongside gay soldiers and keeping sexuality out of the military – which I will address shortly – may have been blown out of proportion and over-politicized.

“God Hates Fags”

The final group is a small, but boisterous, segment of the population. By now, almost everyone who watches the news has seen images of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) protesting military funerals, and unleashing a unhealthy amount of anti-gay propaganda in the process. According to their website, which is actually www.godhatesfags.com, the WBC admits to engaging in 44,819 pickets in 816 cities, even employing children in their horrific displays which include signs bearing slogans such as “Pray for more dead soldiers,” “Thank God for Sept. 11,” and “God Hates Fag Enablers.” These people, of course, are on the extreme end of the spectrum, but I use them as an example to illustrate that there is real bigotry out there, and it should not be tolerated. These actions are neither Christian nor do they represent the intentions of our founding fathers, who valued personal freedom, and our Constitution which guarantees it. Those who have an intense dislike of homosexuals believe that homosexuality and the military are incompatible. They support a return to the 1981 Department of Defense policy, in which gays were flat-out banned from serving. There are many valid arguments against repealing DADT, especially during wartime, but hating gays isn’t one of them.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

For some, this issue is seen as a battle against the “homosexual agenda.” For others DADT is seen as a partisan issue, and victory over pro-repeal Democrats and President Obama is of utmost importance. In speaking publicly about this issue over the last year, I’ve heard some interesting arguments both for – and against – repeal. Most of the arguments for repeal are based on what people perceive as a “right” to serve in our military. No such right exists. Our military is the most formidable fighting force on our planet, a fact that has kept us safe from foreign aggressors, and helped ensure tranquility and prosperity here at home. The military has always decided who can and cannot serve, with help from its Commander-in-Chief – our president. We could pretend that repealing DADT will create no challenges or conflicts, but we would be deluding ourselves in a dangerous way. While our military is extremely professional, and it has overseen racial integration and the inclusion of women, it did so for the most part during peacetime – and still faced challenges.

Troop morale, unit cohesion, the ability to conduct successful missions, and the safety of our troops – both gay and straight – should be our top priority, and that of our government. With that said, a 1992 report by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) estimated that nearly 17,000 men and women were discharged for homosexuality during the 1980s, and another 14,000 were discharged under DADT since 1993. Together that’s 31,000 service personnel – about 2% of our Armed Forces – with whom we have invested time and money in training, discharged from the military. That number includes good soldiers, officers, career veterans, and those trained in Arabic, many of whom were guilty of simply being gay.

The comfort level of serving alongside gay men and women is one legitimate concern, but the Pentagon’s own DADT study seems to have put that to rest. Of the roughly 400,000 military members and spouses surveyed, only 29% cared enough to respond, and 70% of those believe that repeal would have a positive impact or no impact at all. Of those who responded saying that they already believed someone they worked with or served with was gay, 92% said it was a positive experience. This seems to show that those currently serving will do just fine with DADT repeal. However, there are other issues which require greater examination.

Some believe there is no place for sexuality in the military. This is an argument I’ve heard often, especially from conservatives, yet it confuses me greatly. Clearly there is plenty of heterosexuality in the military. Men frequently talk about “hot chicks” and other things of a more sexual nature not fit for publishing here, yet no one advocates for a DADT policy for straight soldiers. It seems as though these opponents do not understand the meaning of “openly gay.” There is a clear difference between “being gay” and “engaging in homosexual acts.” For example, if a soldier is an orthodox Jew, he is allowed to serve as openly Jewish – meaning that he does not have to hide or lie about it. However, the military prohibits soldiers from wearing non-military issue hats while on duty, which prevents the orthodox Jewish man from wearing a yarmulke. If the Jewish soldier refused to follow the UCMJ and wore a yarmulke every day, he would be reprimanded, punished, or possibly discharged if he refused to comply.

The most relevant arguments I’ve heard against repeal have to do with the logistics involved in living arrangements, showers, battlefield hygiene, and personal conflicts. Currently, men and women have separate accommodations, for obvious reasons, but how do you add gays into the mix? When President Truman desegregated the military, a large majority of Americans were against it, and many white service members wanted nothing to do with black soldiers. There are stories of race riots on Navy warships during the Vietnam War, and sexual assault is an “epidemic” according to the GAO. Surely these are not reasons to ban straight white men from the military, and neither should they be reasons to ban blacks, women or gays.

The ultimate lesson from all of this is that implementation of repeal should lie in the hands of those in charge of our military. Even though Congress has passed repeal, and the president has signed it, it must be approved in writing by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, followed by a 60-day waiting period, before it takes effect. This allows the military time to carefully implement repeal. This is preferable to having repeal pass through the courts. In the meantime, as everyone in our military honors their duty and follows the law, we will undoubtedly hear from those outside the military with an opinion on this highly emotional issue. Some are already insulting members of the military by insinuating that they cannot rise above sexual orientation and do their jobs professionally. Others are urging soldiers to quit the military, and urging parents to discourage their children from seeking military service. On the other hand, some institutes of higher learning like Yale and Columbia are reconsidering ROTC programs because they will no longer create a conflict with their non-discrimination policies.

In the end, DADT will soon be a thing of the past. Gay service members can now return to duty to fulfill the remainder of their contracts. Will they? Who knows, as many believe DADT had become a way out of the military for some. Either way, it is the right thing to do. This is America, and in this country we are supposed to believe that “who you are” is more important than “what you are.” As Barry Goldwater famously said, “You don’t need to be straight to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight.” No one today would suggest that African-Americans be removed from the military, and it is my hope that decades from now, the same can be said for our gay soldiers.