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A Voice

by A Navy Officer

The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) will be a major departure from a longstanding element of military law based on the premise that homosexuals created an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order, discipline, and unit cohesion essential to military capability (United States Code, Title 10, Section 654).  The unacceptable risk stemmed from the perceived impact openly gay service-members would have on their co-workers.  But, for gays deciding to serve 20 years until retirement after the repeal of DADT, such commitments will be difficult if their families are not respected and treated as heterosexual families are, potentially impacting military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting, and retention.  While the repeal will allow gay service-members to declare their sexuality and reveal their spouse and families without fear of discharge, just as importantly, it will also allow them a voice to advocate for new diversity inclusion and equal opportunity policies for themselves and their families.

Being a racial minority, I have sat through DoD council meetings and lectures declaring Diversity as a mission critical imperative.  Without the widest range of personnel empowered to achieve their best, the Military’s mission will be impaired.  Globalization, technological advancements, demographic changes and irregular warfare are pushing the DoD to be as diverse in its all volunteer workforce as possible.  Despite equal opportunity directives stating an end to harassment and discrimination, metrics tracking diversity within commands are ill-defined, training is little more than web-based annual requirements and expectations are seldom more than photo opportunities.  These efforts currently do not include sexual orientation, but the same execution issues implementing grandiose inclusion strategies would apply after the repeal of DADT.  If your best radar technician is gay and he is not chosen to perform to the best of his abilities, then your sensor capabilities may not be up and running as efficiently and as reliably as needed.

And if you pick your best radar tech to repair your ship’s antenna, besides providing him with the best tools and training possible, it is also imperative to ensure his personal needs are met.  The Military does an impressive, and often overlooked, job of fulfilling a full range of lifestyle needs for service-members and their families.  Full health care.  No income tax on housing and cost of living allowances.  No sales tax at Commissaries and Exchanges.  Bases bigger than some towns with schools, movie theaters, bowling alleys, water parks, museums, indoor racetracks, golf courses and hot spas.  With the repeal of DADT, while these benefits will remain available to military service-members, it remains to be seen how same-sex spouses and the dependents of gay couples will be accommodated.

During the past 11 years I have served in the Navy, American society has changed.  From the ashes of the AIDS epidemic, LGBT communities have grown, thrived and gentrified neighborhoods to become cultural centers within today’s metropolises. Sodomy laws were invalidated.  Queers were adopting, fostering, and raising children.  Women were having their own children while in committed lesbian relationships.  Queer couples lined up to walk down the aisle and get married.

Under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA, U.S.C. 17 and 28115), any act of Congress only recognizes a marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman and a spouse as a person of the opposite sex.  In addition, no state or territory of the Union is required to honor a marriage between persons of the same sex under laws of another state.  At Federal civilian agencies, the rights and benefits of gay spouses and civil union partners are not the same as those of heterosexual spouses.  So, the DoD with its even greater responsibility toward its service-members may continue to withhold services and discriminate against its gay workforce.  Will service-members receive increased pay and basic allowances for dependents in a gay union?  Will gay spouses have the same benefits and privileges on base as their heterosexual counterparts with full access to financial, social, and medical services?  What if the base is in a state that does not recognize gay marriages?  Even with access and privileges, will chaplains, counsellors, and teachers be trained and prepared to handle the unique social dynamic within a gay military family?  An Admiral once said our job is to do bad things to bad people so our families can sleep safe and sound back home.  The Military learned long ago that if its war-fighters are worried about their families back home, their thoughts are not going to be on the tasks at hand.  In the Navy Exchange, there are decals proclaiming the toughest job in the Navy is the Navy Wife.  Such sentiment would be at odds with current laws under DOMA.  As DADT fades into history and gays in the military recede as an issue from the media headlines, equal opportunity will come to the forefront for all gays, civilian and military.

What the repeal does do is allow the public advocacy necessary to petition for such equal access to begin.  The most frustrating aspect of the DADT debate was that I as a gay service-member could not speak for myself.  We had our retired and discharged brethren, advocates in the legal and political system and sympathizers all around speaking for us.  Those like me who stayed silent and stayed in were not truly part of our own debate.  Soon we will be.  We will stand up and be counted.  We will begin to publicly demand the same rights and privileges of other service-members and their families and form the future of a more inclusive and more mission effective US Military.  This is most critical, because at the deck-plate level only gay service-members and their families know what gay service-members and their families need.  While many will see this repeal as a major goal for civil rights, for me this is only the beginning.  I welcome the repeal as a stepping stone and a challenge for military personnel to lead by example and through their leadership redefine American society as a whole.

2010-2011 Gay Military Signal