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The Times They Are A-Changin'
by Aubrey Sarvis

Executive Director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network

Originally published in The Huffington Post, June 6,  2008

"Times change," Sam Nunn said Tuesday.

Boy, do they ever! The former Senator offered this less than startling observation by way of explaining that maybe the ban on openly gay military service members that he was instrumental in passing in 1993 when he was chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, that maybe the policy deserved "another look." He did not go so far as to say that the policy was flat-out wrong and Congress should repeal the law, but hey, it's progress of a sort.

"See how it's working," he said, "ask the hard questions, hear from the military. Start with a Pentagon study."

A Pentagon study! We need another Pentagon study? How many studies have there been? The Navy commissioned what is known as the Crittenden Report in 1957. Thirty years later the Defense Security Research and Education Center (PERSEREC) confirmed the Crittenden findings and found no data to support the ban on gays in the military. The Pentagon didn't want to hear that and ten years later they sent PERSEREC back for another look. The second report went even farther than the first, finding that "gay service members fared better than their heterosexual counterparts in most areas of adjustment, including school behavior and cognitive ability." Because the first report caused much hand-wringing in the corridors of the E-Ring, the second report was never submitted.

The Pentagon asked the independent Rand Corporation to take a look at the issue in 1993, between the two PERSEREC reports and after President Clinton signed a memorandum directing the military to end discrimination based on sexual orientation. Rand produced an exhaustive analysis from outside. Their researchers visited seven countries and the police and fire departments of six American cities. They reviewed the scientific literature. They focused on what happened after President Truman signed the executive order ending racial segregation in the military. (Essentially nothing.) They sampled public opinion. They interviewed active-duty military personnel -- and on and on. God knows what all this cost the taxpayer. You'll never guess what Rand concluded: "sexual orientation [is] not germane to determining who may serve in the military."

I was in the Army for three years -- sometimes, as Senator Nunn used to say, "in tight quarters" - and I could have told them that. It would have cost them nothing.

Nonetheless, and despite the mounting pile of favorable reports, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell and Senator Nunn decided they needed their own report. Thus another Pentagon "study." That fore-ordained report took the position that allowing homosexuals -- openly gay men and women -- into the military was just too nervous-making. For them if no one else. They ignored the independent Rand report. They ignored all the other independent reports, finding it easier just to fall back on their old, familiar, comfortable prejudices. And so, with the backing of Senator Nunn and General Powell, most of Congress, and yes, President Clinton, we got the patently discriminatory law making every homosexual American a second class citizen of his country. They pronounced the law a compromise and called it "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The passage of DADT was not a moment that will be viewed with pride in the history of this land.

So no, Senator Nunn, no more of those Pentagon "studies." But we agree on this, Senator: "times change."

Sixty years after President Truman signed the executive order ending racial segregation in the military, an African-American is the Democratic Party's nominee for president. Our next president and commander in chief may well be black. Considering where we were sixty years ago, that is nothing short of astonishing. (And let's not forget that his chief rival in the contest was a woman. Ninety years ago she wouldn't have been allowed to vote.)

One of the conclusions the Rand study came to was this: ""Implementation is most successful where the message is unambiguous, consistently delivered, and uniformly enforced. Leadership is critical in this regard."

We do not need another Pentagon "study." We need men and women at the top to lead us to what is clearly right. We need a president who will lead, and we need members of the Senate and the House to stop cowering in their closets (coat closets only, people, nothing sexual intended) and explain to their constituents why DADT must go. If recent polls are any indication, most of their constituents are ahead of them on the issue anyway.

After signing his executive order integrating the armed forces, and after letting everyone have their say, Truman called the none too enthusiastic Joint Chiefs together. Gentlemen, the president said, now it's about leadership.

And it's still about leadership. Senior military leaders must speak up. The military stays out of politics, that is true, and rightly so. Every member of our armed forces swears to carry out the policies of the president and the congress, and therefore -- at least in theory -- the will of the people. But as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Michael Mullen, wrote in a remarkable open letter published in the forthcoming issue of Joint Forces Quarterly, "We defend all Americans, everywhere, regardless of their age, race, gender, creed, and, yes, political affiliation." And although he did not mention it, sexual orientation.

The military defends all of us, regardless of whether we favor the opposite sex, the same sex, or no sex. And the converse is equally true: lesbians, gays, and bisexuals are among those fighting our wars. They are defending us. They just can't tell anybody.

  2008  The Huffington Post