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General Shalikashvili Says Gays Should be Able to Serve Openly

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

In a New York Times Op-Ed published January 2, 2007, General John M. Shalikashvili, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, supports gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. Here is the link:


He writes, "I now believe that if gays and lesbians served openly in the U.S. military, they would not undermine the armed forces. Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job."

The significance of General Shalikashvili’s editorial cannot be overstated. He was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs when the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) legislation was enacted, and he had to implement it as policy throughout the military. He supported the arguments underpinning DADT at the time (namely, openly gay service members would undermine morale, destroy unit cohesion and impair combat readiness). But over the years, as evidence continued to accumulate that times have changed and that the current generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coasties do not share the same degree of homophobia as was assumed to exist in the early 90’s, General Shalikashvili changed his mind. He now agrees with those of us who have been advocating for open inclusion of gays and lesbians in the military.

His change of heart is immensely significant. I have long advocated that until the senior members of the military agree that gays and lesbians can serve openly, Congress and the White House would never agree to repeal the DADT law. No matter how strong the arguments we activists put forward, it would never be enough. For the law to be repealed, Congress would look to the Pentagon for the Joint Chiefs’ opinion. And if those senior officers did not concur, the law would not be changed. With General Shalikashvili’s editorial, the door is now open for other senior flag officers to reconsider their long-held opinions about gays serving in the military. And when they look at the same evidence as did General Shalikashvili, they will likely reach the same conclusion.

I feel privileged to have played a role in bringing recent information about gays in the military to General Shalikashvili’s attention. On four occasions, General Shalikashvili invited me into his home in Steilacoom, Washington to discuss DADT. I had sought these meetings to get his advice and counsel on this issue. Starting in the spring of 2005, I met with the General by myself, and then again with Dixon Osburn, president of SLDN (www.sldn.org); with Aaron Belkin, Director of the then Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military (now the Michael D. Palm Center (http://palmcenter.org), and finally, in October, 2005 with a group of young veterans from the Call to Duty Tour (www.calltodutytour.org). This last meeting, in my opinion, was most instrumental in helping to convince the General that gays and lesbians can serve openly. Here is what the General says about his meeting with the young service members:

"The question before us now is whether enough time has gone by to give this policy serious reconsideration. Much evidence suggests it has. Last year I held a number of meetings with gay enlisted soldiers and marines, including some with combat experience in Iraq, and a senior sailor who was serving openly and effectively as a member of a nuclear submarine crew. These conversations showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers just like anybody else."

That sentiment is extremely important. When the voices of our gay veterans are heard, particularly those serving recently and especially those who have served openly and without problems despite the knowledge of their peers and sometimes even with the knowledge of their commands, the battle will be nearly won. For when these patriotic young service members step forward and say to the public, to Congress, to the Pentagon, and to the White House, "I am a gay soldier (sailor, marine, airman, coastie); my buddies knew I was gay and didn’t care; I want to serve my country; why won’t you let me?" what possible reasons could remain for continuing the discriminatory Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law?

We activists for repeal of DADT now need to redouble our efforts towards convincing those in a position to make a difference that gays and lesbians can serve openly (and, in many cases, are already serving openly). I encourage all readers of the Gay Military Signal to become familiar with the immensely important data contained in the recent Zogby Poll of 545 Iraq/Afghanistan veterans about gays and lesbians serving in today’s military. Here is a link to the complete study:


I also encourage all readers of Gay Military Signal to continue their outstanding efforts at getting your own story and those of your gay veteran friends before the public. The more of us who stand up and are counted, the easier it will be for the decision makers in Congress and the Pentagon to come around to General Shalikashvili’s way of thinking.