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Hofstra Asked, We Told
Hofstra University Law School DADT Panel Nov. 15, 2006

Rhonda K. Davis
Former Petty Officer 1st Class, U.S. Navy

On November 15th, a panel of four gathered inside the Law School at Hofstra University in Hempstead , New York , to talk to students and faculty about the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.  To an attentive crowd of about 35 students, Sharon Alexander (Service Members Legal Defense Network), Heather Sarver (Air Force veteran and Law student at Hofstra, responsible for organizing the event), Denny Meyer (President of American Veterans for Equal Rights New York), and myself, Rhonda Davis (former Navy Journalist), presented history, research, and many personal accounts of how DADT is a bad policy for all Americans.

Sharon ’s speech kicked off the event.  After the moderator introduced her, Sharon moved from behind the table where the rest of us sat, to a standing position closer to where the audience members sat.  With a commanding confidence, Sharon expertly broke down the myths behind DADT:  that a simple act such as hand-holding between two people of the same gender is a violation of the policy; that there is no patient-doctor confidentiality when it comes to sexual orientation, and that being “out” to anyone (even your most trusted friends and family members) is a violation of policy that could lead to discharge.

After Sharon explained what DADT meant in a legal sense, she slid the microphone to Heather who told a personal account of how DADT ruins lives and careers.  Heather’s nervous tone quickly became one of relaxed assuredness after realizing she had captivated the crowd with her story.  I myself nearly bolted to my feet with applause when she pointed out, “the policy is ‘don’t ASK, don’t TELL, don’t PURSUE, don’t HARASS,’ yet no one ever gets punished for asking, pursuing, or harassing.  The tellers are the only ones who get discharged.” 

Heather came into the Air Force understanding what DADT would mean for her, and still she made that personal sacrifice:  she agreed not to tell she’s gay.  But the heterosexual Air Force members she worked with didn’t keep their end of the bargain; they asked, pursued, and harassed her.  So much, in fact, that Heather decided to “out” herself and get kicked out of the military in order to escape the torment.  Her story pointed out yet another disparity about DADT, one that I myself hadn’t even realized:  that it sets up a bargain, a compromise of sorts, between heterosexual and homosexual service members.  “I won’t ask you if you don’t tell me.”  The problem is, even when GLBT service members keep with their end of the bargain, as Heather did, the heterosexuals aren’t bound by the same.

When it was my turn to speak, I told of my 12 years of service to the Navy and how, for most of my career, I was “out” to my co-workers.   I explained to the university students and staff that I am living proof that gays can serve openly in the military without destroying unit cohesion, morale, or the mission.  I am living proof that being gay doesn’t impair one’s ability to be a good worker or a good Sailor, Soldier, Airman, or Marine.  I am also living proof that American troops, as well as the American public, are ready for this policy to end.  More and more service members are coming out, being openly gay, and blatantly violating DADT because they are tired of the double standard.  More and more potential military applicants are protesting recruiting stations because they no longer accept this policy as a condition of service.

Yet, sadly, “don’t ask, don’t tell” remains a military law.  Denny Meyer wrapped up the event nicely with his speech.  He pointed out that when WWII ended, prisoners were released from concentration camps and given their freedom.  The men and women who were imprisoned for being homosexual, however, never again knew freedom.  They were shipped to prisons in their home countries to suffer the rest of their lives.  Our American GLBT troops in WWII were considered criminals, and still in 2006, our government treats GLBT service members as criminals and second-class citizens.

After about an hour of talking about the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the event officially ended and many of the students hurried off to their next class.  Several students and faculty members approached the panelists afterward to ask questions and shake our hands.  As I walked out of the law school building and headed to my car, I got the feeling this event may be over, but we had left a lasting impression in the students’ minds.  My hope is that they all go on to do great things, and that they will remember what we said on November 15, 2006.  It is my hope that these future lawyers will do what they can to influence a change in the military’s anti-gay law so that future GLBT service members won’t have to traverse the same prejudicial path Heather Sarver, I, and so many others have had to travel on the long road to equality.