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"Donít Ask, Donít Tell in Todayís Military"

by RADM Alan M. Steinman, USCG / USPHS (Ret)

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual (GLB) Americans are serving their country honorably in every branch of our Armed Forces in this time of war. Yet the "Donít Ask, Donít Tell" (DADT) law requires them to serve in silence, to lie about who they are, and to violate the very code of honor they are defending by their service. Gay servicemen and women are fighting for their country, being wounded for their country, and even dying for their country. Yet Congress and the Pentagon seem unaware that these brave men and women have to serve in fear of being discovered, fear of being kicked out simply for who they are, or worse, fear of harassment or violence. Our nation needs to appreciate that gay men and women in the military are as patriotic, physically and mentally fit, and mission capable as their straight counterparts. In the Armed Forces, courage, commitment and devotion to duty matter, not sexual orientation.

Since I came out publicly in 2003 on the 10th anniversary of DADT, I have had the privilege of meeting hundreds of GLBT veterans, many of them still on active duty. Surprisingly, many of them are also serving with the knowledge of their peers, and sometimes even with the knowledge of their commands, all without problems. Their experiences, and those of the estimated 65,000 GLB service men and women currently on active duty will help convince the American public, Congress, and the Administration that DADT is unnecessary and harmful to our national security.

The "Donít Ask, Donít Tell" law dates from 1992, when then Presidential candidate Bill Clinton promised to allow GLB Americans to serve openly in the military. On January 29, 1993, shortly after his inauguration, President Clinton suspended the existing Department of Defense policy which banned gay and lesbian personnel from military service. However, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and influential members of Congress vehemently opposed the Presidentís attempt to permanently lift the ban. This led to six months of intense Congressional and Administration discussions and hearings on the issue. The end result was the infamous "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law. It was inserted into the 1994 National Defense Authorization Act and represented a so-called compromise between the President, who wanted to allow GLB members to serve openly, and the Pentagon and its Congressional allies who wanted to totally ban them. Under DADT, the military would not inquire about the sexual orientation of current and future service members. GLB men and women would be allowed to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces unless they declared they are gay, attempted to marry a person of the same sex, or engaged in homosexual conduct. Service members who were discovered to be homosexual would be subject to dismissal. The compromise did nothing to protect GLB service members from harassment, and it paradoxically resulted in a dramatic increase in GLB discharges.

Over the next 13 years, nearly 11,000 GLB members were kicked out of the military as a result of DADT, at a cost of nearly $400 million. Thousands more GLB service members have voluntarily left the military because they could no longer tolerate living a lie in order to serve. At a time when our nation struggles to recruit capable service members, it cannot continue to exclude the tens of thousands of gay men and women who are willing and able to serve. More than an issue of civil rights, it is an issue of national security.

Supporters of the DADT policy argue that unit cohesion and morale would be damaged if openly gay and lesbian people were allowed to serve. Dozens of studies and the experiences of many key American allies have shown that these arguments are without merit. Furthermore, this policy presumes that junior enlisted service members, mostly young men, would be uncomfortable serving next to gays. Yet national polls in 2004 and 2005 show that a large majority of Americans support gays and lesbians serving openly. More significantly, a recent poll of junior enlisted service members, the segment of the armed forces presumed least willing to work alongside openly GLB members, shows a majority in favor of GLB members serving openly. Finally, the experiences of the many GLB members who are currently serving without problems, many of the them in combat, despite being known to be gay, lesbian or bisexual, demonstrates that the entire underlying premise of DADT is false. Now, more than ever, Congress needs to repeal DADT.