At the 15-Year Mark We Have A “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Standoff Brewing

April marks the 15-year anniversary of the U.S. policy of gays in the military known commonly as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Before the institution of the policy, suspected gay and lesbian soldiers and sailors were persecuted in witch hunts, investigated, court-martialed, and dishonorably discharged. Careers and lives were routinely ruined.

DADT prohibits any homosexual or bisexual person from disclosing his or her sexual orientation, or from speaking about any homosexual relationships including marriages or other familial attributes, while serving in the United States armed forces. The “don’t ask” part of the policy indicates that superiors should not initiate investigation of a servicemember’s orientation in the absence of disallowed behaviors, though mere suspicion of homosexual behavior can cause an investigation.

DADT came about as a compromise because while campaigning for the presidency, Bill Clinton had promised to allow all citizens – regardless of orientation – to serve openly in the military. Following opposition, the compromise measure was crafted by Colin Powell in 1993 and has been in place since then, even through the more conservative Bush administration.

Now, 15 years later, much of the country has been watching with interest to see whether President Barack Obama will overturn DADT, clearing the way for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals to serve openly in the military.

This on today:

Despite his commitment on the campaign trail to ending the military’s discriminatory ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy and subsequently emphatic pronouncements from his camp suggesting that he would end the ban on gay and lesbians serving openly in the U.S. military, President Barack Obama has apparently tabled any immediate action that would overturn the rule.

“The president and I feel like we’ve got a lot on our plates right now and let’s push that one down the road a little bit,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said with respect to DADT during an appearance on Fox News Sunday.

Though the president is said to have consulted with Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff on lifting the ban on gays in the military, “that dialogue, though, has really not progressed very far at this point in the administration,” Gates said.

Okay, granted Obama has his hands full, but even as he “pushes this one down the road a little bit” both sides are building armaments.

Several prestigious military academys have formed LGBT alumni groups in order to raise the visibility of retired military members who served their country, these groups include Knights Out (West Point) and USNA Out, a group of Naval Academy graduates.

Meanwhile, a group of retired military officers is calling for the Obama administration to uphold DADT. (Story here.)

I heard part of a great interview today on Michael Krasny’s Forum on KQED public radio.

The guest was Nathaniel Frank, who is the author of a new book, Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America. He explained how DADT has resulted in an exodus of servicemembers who had the potential to be career members of the military. They’ve left because of pressure, discharge, and the stress of being closeted. As they’ve left, our armed forces have cast a wider net, often accepting people in the service at standards below what was once considered acceptable because of the need to keep uniforms filled.

What I found most poignant about the interview was when Frank explained that LGBT servicemembers can’t freely and honestly access basic and necessary services like chaplain support and psychiatric counseling, nor can they share important medical information with military doctors. They can’t do these things during service, or after returning from tours of duty. He explained that many soldiers are not seeking the mental health services it has been widely publicized that they need after active duty in Iraq because of DADT.

While straight servicemembers return home to warm family welcomes, the happy embraces of spouses and sweethearts, and community celebrations, LGBT servicemembers generally don’t see these welcomes. Fear of exposure pressures them into keeping their homecomings private, which further adds to their isolation.

Nathaniel Frank is a senior research fellow at the Palm Center at UC Santa Barbara, and an adjunct faculty member at the Gallatin School at New York University. If you were raised as a military brat, his book would make a perfect Father’s Day gift for your dad.


One response to “At the 15-Year Mark We Have A “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Standoff Brewing

  1. One of the biggest concerns for many is DADT and sadly recently Daniel Choi is being kicked out for simply being a gay man. I did an interview with him and many other military members for my podcast and it saddens me so much that over 266 people have been kicked out since Obama has been in office. I really hope that Obama will finally do more for the GLBT community and we must allow him more time. But we must also keep him accountable for his promises but with all of the Obama bashers they have to remember how much would have been done if McCain had won.

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