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Relaxing Standards, Still Holding Onto DADT

Rhonda K. Davis

Not only does our country's don't ask, don't tell policy force many service members out of the U.S. military, but it discourages thousands of qualified potential applicants from enlisting. According to Soulforce (an activist organization dedicated to ending religious and political discrimination against the GLBT community), 41,000 citizens would serve in the American Armed Forces if they did not have to lie in order to do so.

"Susan Brown" (not her real name) is just one of those citizens. Susan is an athletic honor-roll student from Long Island New York, active in her church and community; she has no criminal record; she doesnít drink, doesnít smoke, never has used drugs; she is in perfect health; sheís on her school debate team; sheís fluent in two languages and plays a musical instrument. This intelligent, motivated high school senior seems like the perfect candidate for the U.S. Armed Forces. Thereís only one thing "wrong" with her in the militaryís eye Ö Susan Brown is a lesbian, a lesbian unwilling to trade in her honesty and integrity for anything in this world, even the Army uniform she would someday like to wear.

But the Army doesnít want or need Susan Brown. According to USA Today, the Army exceeded its recruiting goals for the month of June by 2% above their target goal, staying on track to meet their goal of 80,000 new soldiers this year. They did this by relaxing their standards.

Tattoos: Those on the neck and hands no longer disqualify a potential recruit.

Older recruits: The Army raised the maximum enlistment age from 35 to 42 years old.

Lower educational requirements: In 2005, the Army began accepting up to 4% of those who score in the bottom third on the Armed Forces Qualification Test.  Previously, it had a limit of 2% from that category. The Army has also relaxed its restriction against high school dropouts.

For potential future recruits like Susan Brown (who comes from a long line of military family members), the DADT policy is enough to say "no way" to recruiters who frequently visit her school with free keyrings and promises of great travel and a better life.

"Iíve come too far," she says, "I just canít go back into the closet. I used to hate myself; I even wanted to kill myself because I thought I was a bad person, some kind of freak. Then I got involved in some gay activist organizations, met other kids like myself, and Iím pretty confident now. I canít go back to hiding, lying, and feeling bad about myself again. I don't even understand why I would have to. I mean, I can understand kids teasing me at school, but I expect more from adults -- especially the ones we trust to defend our country. How could people talk about freedom, then treat gay people like we don't deserve any rights at all? It's very sad."

The folks involved in Soulforce are fighting DADT so that young people like Susan will someday have the right to serve. Their Right to Serve Campaign is taking place in 30 cities around the country. Potential enlistees, who are openly homosexual, enter military recruiting offices and attempt to sign up, then are turned away by the recruiters and told that if they're serious about enlisting they must lie about and hide their sexual orientation.

Susan Brown is not willing to lie about who she is. In fact, she says sheís ready to uphold the higher standard the military imposes, but not willing to abide by the double standard it imposes on gays and lesbians.

"I have a girlfriend," she proudly boasts, "and I just canít imagine having to keep her a secret and worry all that time that someone will find out about us. My parents know, my friends now, everyone knows about me. I could never survive under donít ask, donít tell. I would get kicked out the first week."

Currently, Ezekiel Montgomery, Jacob Reitan, Haven Herrin, and Briget Schwarting of The Right to Serve Campaign are conducting sit-ins in the Minneapolis, Minnesota area to protest being denied the right to enlist in the U.S. military. Among the other cities involved in the campaign are Tampa, Spokane, New York City, Tacoma, Greensboro, and Richmond, just to name a few.

Rhonda K. Davis
Navy veteran