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Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Posted on 2009.12.02 at 03:00
Current Location: 75070
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I was serving in the United Kingdom when Clinton's historic Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy was enacted, allowing, for the first time, a lift on the ban of homosexuals to serve in the Armed Forces. This was met, as you may be able to imagine, with derision and mockery from within the ranks, but it paled in comparison to the editorial cartoons reprinted in the Stars and Stripes overseas newspaper, the only forum we had in which to gauge U.S. reaction.

I was home on leave later the next year and had mentioned to my gay friends that I never understood why gays were so hell-bent on getting in the military what with it being forbidden and all. I asked them if it was a sort of rite-of-passage or a thrill to do something they weren't allowed to. One of them asked me if I figured out the answer. I had not and I'm ashamed to admit that once he told me, it still took me many years to understand it: They wanted to serve.

My Air Force sister-in-arms kat_rowe recently asked for signatures repealing the law on its anniversary, and I must admit, I'd not thought much about it. Fortunately, the link she posted provided a wealth of information for me to consider my options, and these are my findings.

  • And yet issues with implementation – such as a vague and widely varied interpretation on what qualifies as a gay or lesbian ‘act’ – still exist.1

    • No one has to define for me what is, or is not, a homosexual act. There are many things I instinctively understand and this is one of them. Furthermore, the US Code is *crystal clear* to me: "any bodily contact, actively undertaken or passively permitted, between members of the same sex for the purpose of satisfying sexual desires;"2

  • Sixty-seven percent of civilians support allowing gays to serve openly3

    • That's fantastic! However, those civilians are not currently serving. I read your blogs - your biggest complaint on a bad day is what so-and-so said about you or the traffic. People living in prison have more rights and freedoms than I experienced while in Saudi Arabia. Frankly, your vote means nothing to me.

  • Nearly three in four troops (73 percent) say they are personally comfortable in the presence of gays and lesbians.4

    • And here's always the way it is. "Nearly" means its not, and is used only when trying to inflate something, and "comfortable" isn't exactly a rousing recommendation. To me, not seeing any difference whatsoever is key to its success. Obviously we're not there yet.

  • More than 20 of the 26 NATO nations, including Great Britain, Australia, Canada and Israel, already allow open service by gays and lesbians, and none of the countries reports morale or recruitment problems.5

    • How many of those services are manned by conscripts? You want to impress me with facts, compare our career infantrymen with theirs.

Sadly, these points I disagree with were gleaned from the anti-DADT website and the links they provided. At least they were thorough. Also linked is the 2009 winner of the Secretary of Defense National Security Essay Competition, "The Efficacy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”" which very succinctly outlines how complex this law is from several different legal viewpoints, but does challenge the stated "unit cohesion" verbiage of the law as being without scientific evidence6, but unfortunately does not back up his claim by providing scientific evidence to the contrary.

One last aspect I would like to touch on is religious beliefs. This one is hard even for me, because I was taught that homosexuality was a sin. Its difficult to unlearn a lifetime of lessons.
I have two books at my bedside, Lieutenant: the Marine Corps Code of Conduct and the King James Bible. The only proper authorities I am aware of are my commanding officer, Colonel Nathan R. Jessep, and the Lord our God.

~ Lt. Kendrick, "A Few Good Men"

The statement that "societal views have grown far more accommodating in the last 16 years..."7 I realized applied to me. I am part of that dynamic and undulating society and have learned and experienced much in that time. I've also learned that your sacred religious doctrine is nothing more than a societal tool itself, evolving as we do. It therefore no longer holds power over me.

If I was sitting on the fence throughout all of this, there was one notation from an Office of the Secretary of Defense memorandum which was quoted in Attitudes of Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans toward Gay and Lesbian Service Members which I kept coming back to:
The Department of Defense has long held that, as a general rule, homosexuality is incompatible with military service because it interferes with the factors critical to combat effectiveness, including unit morale, unit cohesion, and individual privacy. Nevertheless, the Department of Defense also recognizes that individuals with a homosexual orientation have served with distinction in the armed services of the United States.8
Yes, they have. And they're no different from me.

Repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell?"


Repeal DADT: http://www.hrc.org/sites/voicesofhonor/index.asp*

1 - http://www.hrcbackstory.org/2009/11/announcing-the-voices-of-honor-campaign ¶ 3.
2 - US Code Title 10, Subtitle A, Part II, Chapter 37 §654, ¶ F, Subcategory 3A.
3 - http://www.hrc.org/sites/voicesofhonor/dadt.asp ¶ 9.
4 - Ibid ¶ 10.
5 - Ibid ¶ 11.
6 - http://wilddamntexan.com/kids/EfficacyofDADT.pdf Page 94, ¶ 1.
7 - Ibid Page 89, ¶ 3.
8 - http://www.palmcenter.org/files/active/0/randstudy.pdf Page 2, ¶4.

*Thanks to kat_rowe


Joshua Gizelt
swashbuckler332 at 2009-12-02 11:29 (UTC) (Link)
They wanted to serve.

And this is the crux of this issue to me.

Ultimately it boils down to the fact that certain citizens have a right to serve their country in a certain way and others do not. The idea that homosexuality is somehow "incompatible" with anything is ridiculous as far as I'm concerned: if the soldier has been properly trained, then their sexual orientation should make no more difference to their performance than their skin color, which was its own issue back in the day. This is what the DOD is acknowledging when it recognized the distinguished service of homosexuals in the military.

While I understand that policy should not entirely be dictated by those who aren't conversant of the facts on the ground, it should also not be dictated by bigotry, regardless of how ingrained it is.

Edited at 2009-12-02 11:38 am (UTC)
ehowton at 2009-12-02 14:56 (UTC) (Link)
In discussing this topic with a retired Special Forces veteran, certain units require the utmost in trust, the wavering of which can be deadly. He doesn't disagree that homosexuals don't serve with distinction, rather that truly professional gay soldiers don't bring their gayness into then unit, thus living of their own volition a personally strict version of the current law - not because its law, but because its professional.

This is what the DOD is acknowledging when it recognized the distinguished service of homosexuals in the military.
Which probably came out after the fact. In short, their entire careers were at the level of professionalism previously mentioned. They likely didn't serve as "flaming" which would've diminished that view.
Tomas Gallucci
schpydurx at 2009-12-02 15:08 (UTC) (Link)
While there are many motivations for serving, the fact of the matter is you go into the Service to do a job, not play grab-ass. I agree with the essence of what you said here: be professional.

To me, this is just like legal immigration. You're not expected to deny your heritage, but you are expected to assimilate. You don't come to this country and try to get us to become the country you left. You bring the strengths of your culture to the table to build a stronger society. If you want to do things like speak a different language or promote a certain custom, you do it in the proper place at the proper time--usually in the privacy of one's home.

Why can't we view the question of homosexuals serving in the military in the same light?
ehowton at 2009-12-02 16:14 (UTC) (Link)
I'm a huge proponent of celebrating commonality rather than diversity.
quicksilvermad at 2009-12-02 17:18 (UTC) (Link)
Around the time Clinton introduced the DADT policy, he had quite a few Air Force Bases shut down in Europe. One of them was Iraklion AFB, where my dad was serving as a security policeman. It was toward the end of 1994, I think (because I was just starting second grade), that we were told to pack up* and leave. In a strange way, I resent former President Clinton for shutting us down. This is probably because I was just settling down into good friendships for the first time in my tiny little life and I loved Greece enough that I was comfortable with the idea of living so far away from extended family and I will be going back some day for longer than just a vacation...

I also vaguely remember my dad picking up his copy of The Stars & Stripes and reading about the DADT Policy. I know now, after growing up and learning about how he feels on the issue. You said it here: One last aspect I would like to touch on is religious beliefs. This one is hard even for me, because I was taught that homosexuality was a sin. Its difficult to unlearn a lifetime of lessons. That is exactly what my father was brought up to believe and he thinks that by saying: "I have worked with plenty of gay people before" it means that homosexuality doesn't bother him.
But I know better. Especially when I can see those micro-expressions of disgust on his face before he can control them.

Because I'm young and I have not served my country (I'm starting to consider seeing if the Air Force would like to have its very own talented artist/graphic designer, though) I've been able to take my own religious background, look at it head on, and say: "What other people believe and feel is as important to them as what I believe and feel is important to me. Therefore, if a friend of mine comes up to me and tells me she is a lesbian, I can still be her close friend because it does not change the fact that she has been there for me through all my drama." Yes, the Bible says that "a man lying with another man" is a sin. But the Bible also says that eating pig parts is a sin. And I love me some bacon.
I think that is what puts it all in perspective to me. The Bible was written well before the world itself "grew up" and people branched out to all curves of the globe in exploration.

*grumbles* I have no idea if I'm talking in circles here or what... But I trust you can catch what I'm throwing you here. I understand both sides because my father is all for DADT and I'm all for that old thing just getting thrown out.

*I remember packing up and leaving vividly because it was a painful experience. Not just because we had to ship all of our furniture and stuff out to the States before we left and were stuck with what the Base called "stick furniture." Greece was my home by that time. I was speaking the language and embracing the culture and it was getting ripped out from under me by this guy who looked at all of these Bases and said: "well, that's a useless place for our Armed Forces that's costing us money." That, and one evening before we had to leave, I cracked my head open on the corner of the "stick furniture" coffee table. Which just added injury to insult (and made the plane trips back even more nauseating).
ehowton at 2009-12-02 21:33 (UTC) (Link)
You are refreshingly mature beyond your years - something which catches me off guard often.
irulan_amy at 2009-12-02 18:31 (UTC) (Link)
I have not a lot of useful things to say as I cringe away from anything that might encourage someone to start a debate with me. But I wanted to say that this is a really excellent post. Well researched and well written. I love having you on my f-list for many reasons, but a big one is that you post on such a variety of topics. Well written sir.
ehowton at 2009-12-02 21:21 (UTC) (Link)
I have not a lot of useful things to say as I cringe away from anything that might encourage someone to start a debate with me.
Well I disagree! (Oh, wait...what?)

Seriously - wow. Thanks.

kat_rowe at 2009-12-02 19:21 (UTC) (Link)
If wikipedia is to be trusted (sorry, but Kat is feeling too out of it to do proper research) conscription isn't practiced by the UK (except in Bermuda but that's a separate human rights issue), Australia, or Canada. Granted, I've never served with members of any of those militaries so I don't know how analogous they are to ours *shrugs* IDF is definitely not valid to compare to a volunteer military, however.

To me, it comes down to the fact that we want to serve and restrictions are being applied. For me, it never came down to whether I was getting sexual pleasure from physical contact with a female; it was about whether it could be perceived that way. Maybe that was paranoid of me but it did inform my behavior at times. I was more comfortable hugging male friends than female ones (which is silly since I’m equally attracted to both).

I won’t point out that there was a time in this world’s history where strict heterosexuality was believed to undermine troop morale (Sacred Band of Thebes, anyone?) but it seems to me like it’s impractical. Either say we can serve or say that we can’t; don’t tell us we can serve if we pretend not to be what we are. It’s not about whether you’re “flaming” or a dyke or whatever. It’s about whether, during your downtime, you’re allowed to date who you want that way your squad mates are. Maybe it’s unrealistic of me to think that, if you pull your weight in your unit, that should be your right but I do like to think we’ve moved past that. I personally would rather be declared unfit for service outright than told not to be the way I was born.

Thanks for taking the time to research and post on this issue *hugs you*
ehowton at 2009-12-02 20:43 (UTC) (Link)
If wikipedia is to be trusted...
Hrm, probably should've cited my source - I used http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/mil_con-military-conscription and yes, you're exactly right - notice however that of the "more than 20 of the 26" only 4 are listed :/

I've never served with members of any of those militaries so I don't know how analogous they are to ours
I served with two different units of RAF in Saudi Arabia. They reminded me of the old Phil Silver's show, "Sgt. Bilko." More the era than the antics, but that too.

...it was about whether it could be perceived that way.
One of the great causalities of the Tolerance Movement - individual expression.

(Sacred Band of Thebes, anyone?)
Interestingly enough, the retired Special Forces veteran I consulted during my research phase brought up that unit of solely homosexual couples. Sadly, it was reported that the experiment was a dismal failure which resulted in "total annihilation" of the group :(

It’s about whether, during your downtime, you’re allowed to date who you want...
And that's the tenant of DADT. Believe me - my white, heterosexual coworkers and I NEVER discuss our sexual conquests with each other. Why would you?

Thanks for taking the time to research and post on this issue
Hey! Thank YOU for bringing it to our attention.
thesweetestnote at 2009-12-02 23:05 (UTC) (Link)
I support gay marriage. I believe they have a right to be as miserable as the rest of us.

-Kinky Friedman

Somehow this quote applies here - in a far off strange way...
ehowton at 2009-12-05 23:58 (UTC) (Link)
That's the theme song to The Jeffersons. Man, you really need help.
thesweetestnote at 2009-12-06 07:55 (UTC) (Link)
Man, just cause it's a theme song don't make it not true.
dentin at 2009-12-05 19:31 (UTC) (Link)
I voted no, with comment.

The comment is that we're not ready, and I think the part of the posting around 73% is a good explanation of why. It's not the right thing to do, but it's a damned good reason.

Quite frankly, there's no suitable replacement, because we as a people aren't ready. For fuck's sake, we still don't have gay marriage in more than a handful of states, and even California is fighting an aggressive battle for it. How can one possibly think it's safe to openly put gays into a combat team when a quarter of that team has violent psychological conflicts with the very existence of homosexuality?

The world is an imperfect place. Yes, the law -should- be thrown out and replaced with open tolerance. Yes, gay and other arbitrary forms of legally binding marriage -should- be allowed. Yes, suitably strong artificial intelligence -should- be recognized as having legal rights and identity. However, now is not the time.

It is an imperfect world, and while I am ready, others more important than me are not. As you so eloquently put it, I am a civilian, and my vote counts for shit. What matters is the servicemen, the guys getting shot at, and until -they- are ready for it, open disclosure should be shelved. A better way to handle it would be to open it up slightly, over time; an intermediate compromise might be 'DADT, but if your troop finds out and there's a problem, you will be transferred. If you are repeatedly transferred, you may be involuntarily discharged.'

I learned a long time ago not to underestimate religious zealotry, whether it comes from Alabama's good ol' boys, Kentucky's very active KKK, or members of Al Queda.
ehowton at 2009-12-06 03:20 (UTC) (Link)
Yes, the law -should- be thrown out and replaced with open tolerance.

Tolerance is our corporate policy. But wear a mu-mu to work and see what happens. People make the law, not the other way around. I think you're right, we - as a nation - aren't ready.
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