Retired Admiral turned Congressman
fighting to end
Don't Ask, Don't Tell
He packed away his Navy uniform, but is still
actively serving his country in Congress, fighting for
equal rights for all in the military.
Congressman Joe Sestak, a Democrat representing the
7th Congressional District of Pennsylvania, spent 31
years serving in the U.S. Navy and retired a
three-star admiral. On July, 23, 2008, he spoke
at the House Armed Services Committee hearing on a
review of Don't Ask, Don't Tell 15 years after it was
introduced as a law.
The congressman was gracious enough to talk to The
Gay Military Signal over the phone on August 1, 2008.
The committee decided to revisit Don't Ask, Don't
Tell due in part because outside surveys have shown
that a certain percentage of men and women in the
military are gay.
"I went to war with these people," said
Sestak, who led over 15,000 sailors as a former
commander of the George Washington aircraft carrier
group. "How can I come home and say they
don't deserve equal rights and equal opportunity like
The long-term goal of the hearing was to come up
with legislation that would repeal the policy.
Although the congressman said that it was unlikely to
happen this session.
"But this is a bipartisan issue, many people
believe that it isn't right on both sides of the
aisle," he said. "When I was in the
military, I thought it was going to be ruled
During Sestak's military career, he occasionally
had to deal with the impact of this policy. It
usually came up when an individual in the command came
forward and would tell him that they were gay.
"When that would happen, I would say, 'I wish
you wouldn't say anything,'" said Sestak.
The policy was law and he was forced to comply.
"I think this should be an issue in our wake
and we should be moving forward," he said.
Ultimately for Sestak, who was exposed to diverse
range of individuals during his time in the military,
repealing this policy is a matter of equal rights for
"Everyone is a human being and is equal and
are due respect, their rights and equal
opportunity," he said. "I don't care
about color, gender or orientation, in my mind that is
an issue that has nothing to do with what I believe;
that "all men and women are created equal.'"
The military should reflect the people it draws
upon, said Sestak. The military led the way in
racial integration and with integrating women.
The hearing focused on the impact of the Don't Ask,
Don't Tell policy on unit cohesion and on recruitment
and retention of gay service members. Among
those who spoke out against the policy was retired
Marine Sergeant Eric Alva, who was the first service
member injured during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Sestak, who commanded a battle group during combat
operations in Afghanistan prior to the war in Iraq,
said that he was surprised the Don't Ask, Don't Tell
policy has lasted this long.
"We should not be the 'backwater,' we protect
the belief that men and women are created equal,"
said Sestak, who pointed out that the military
integrated African Americans in 1948 prior to the
modern Civil Rights movement.
The retired admiral is also a cosponsor for
the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (HR 1246),
which seeks to overturn the Don't Ask, Don't Tell
policy and would allow gays to serve openly
2008 Gay Military Signal