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Congressional Hearing on Don't Ask Don't Tell
by Denny Meyer

On July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman had the strength of character and courage to order the integration of Black Americans into our armed forces.  Sixty years later, that momentous moment in American history was commemorated in a ceremony under the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday July 23, 2008.  A few hours later, not coincidentally, the United States House of Representatives Armed Forces Personnel Subcommittee held the first Congressional hearing in fifteen years regarding Don't Ask Don't Tell.  The House hearing was held, also not coincidentally, four days after the fifteenth anniversary of President Clinton's announcing the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy on July 19, 1993.

With such heavy duty dual historical precedents, one could hope that this July's hearing on DADT might hold some significant and progressive developments.  It did not disappoint.  The previous hearing, fifteen years ago, saw Pentagon leaders, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell, declare one after another, in Congressional testimony that allowing homosexuals to serve openly in America's armed forces would result in grave disruption of moral and unit cohesion.  The Pentagon declined to appear at the most recent hearing this July 23, 2008.  Opposition to open gay service was represented by Elaine Donnelly and retired Army Sgt. Maj. Brian Jones, both of whose views were presented in a manner so blatantly prejudiced and illogical that they have since been heralded as having done permanent damage to the argument against open homosexual service in America's armed forces.

Testifying for open service in our military were Major General Vance Coleman, US Army retired, Captain Joan Darrah, US Navy retired, and Staff Sergeant Eric Alva, US Marine retired.  General Coleman, who is heterosexual, spoke eloquently of his having experienced discrimination as a Black American starting when he entered the service, a year before Truman's executive order, in 1947 and continuing though his service in the Korean War.  He made his testimony clear in declaring an equivalence between the discrimination in our armed forces against black and gay American patriots.  As a general, he advocated the repeal of the DADT policy, saying that open service would in no way adversely affect readiness.

Captain Darrah spoke movingly about her experience on September 11th, 2001 when terrorists destroyed the building wing she had just left moments before at meeting in the Pentagon.  She said she realized in that terrible moment that had she been killed along with her colleagues, her partner in life would have been the last to know because she dared not list her as someone to contact in an emergency due to the policy of discrimination.  And as a result she left the service early, taking with her her leadership, training, and experience.

SSG Eric Alva, a former US Marine with 13 years of service who served in Somalia and Iraq, recounted how he became the first American service member injured in the current conflict in Iraq.  His fellow Marines, who rushed to rescue him after his leg was blown off by a land mine, knew he was gay but never gave it a thought.  ( his story is at http://gaymilitarysignal.com/070313Alva.html )

The opponents, Donnelly and Jones, spent their 15 minutes of testimony plus question response time repeatedly fulminating homophobic rants and hetero horror stories of imagined strange sexual scenarios that insulted the integrity, character, and professionalism of both homosexual and heterosexual service members, both those seated next to them and those currently risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Donnelly raised the ludicrous specters of lesbian gangs, transgender terror, sexualized atmosphere, forced cohabitation, and AIDS, among other homophobic stereotypes that were essentially dismissed by the empanelled Representatives as prejudiced posturing rather than being relevant testimony.

SGM Jones, who had the lack of decorum to dare to plug his private 'adventure experience' business during his testimony, repeatedly told a hypothetical story about a Ranger mission behind enemy lines in minus ten degree weather, where a campfire would give away the unit's position, when the only way to keep warm was skin to skin contact in which "arousal" would be disastrous. 

Congressional Representatives on both the left and right gasped in umbrage and outrage that the opponents of honorably open homosexual service had dared to utter such scurrilous statements, insulting to the professionalism, integrity, and sacrifice of our courageous troops, in Congressional Testimony to them in the sacred chambers of our nation's Capitol.  Pennsylvania Representative Patrick Murphy, an Iraq war veteran, characterized the testimony he had heard as "an insult" to himself and all soldiers.  Other representatives found much of the opponents' testimony "inappropriate," "embarrassing" to have to hear, and "counterproductive."

Further action on the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would repeal DADT, allow open homosexual service, and prohibit discrimination, is unlikely to occur until at least next year.

  2008  Gay Military Signal