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Flag Officers Call Anew for Repeal of Donít Ask, Donít Tell


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

The Palm Center this month released the latest study from senior flag officers calling for repeal of the infamous Donít Ask, Donít Tell (DADT) law and its accompanying Department of Defense (DoD) regulations. This study is another landmark in the continuing efforts to overturn the DADT law that treats patriotic gay, lesbian and bisexual service members in a highly discriminatory manner.

Titled Report of the General/Flag Officers Study Group, the document is highly significant for a number of reasons. It is the first time a Marine Corps retired flag officer (BGEN Hugh Aitken, USMC (Ret.)) has publicly endorsed allowing gays to serve honestly in the military. The report was authored by three of the most senior flag officers to recommend that gays serve openly (LGEN Minter Alexander, USAF (Ret.), LTGEN Robert Gard, USA (Ret.), and VADM Jack Shanahan, USN (Ret). These four flag officers thus join the 28 other admirals and generals who, last November at the highly successful Flags on the Mall event, called for repeal of DADT, 24 additional flag officers who have signed on since that time, not to mention the many GLBT flag officers and senior officers who have long ago made the same recommendation.

The Executive Summary of the Study is brief and to the point

A bipartisan study group of senior retired military officers, representing different branches of the service, has conducted an in-depth assessment of the "donít ask, donít tell" policy by examining the key academic and social science literature on the subject and interviewing a range of experts on leadership, unit cohesion and military law, including those who are training our nationís future military leaders at the service academies. The Study Group emphasized that any changes to existing personnel policy must not create an unacceptable risk to the armed forcesí high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.

The four flag officers were assembled at the request of the Michael G. Palm Center to examine the issue of gays in the military. It is the first time since the DADT hearings in Congress in 1993 that senior military personnel have formally convened to examine this issue, take testimony from expert witnesses, review academic studies on the issue, consider the published opinions of military and other experts (both pro and con) on the issue, and make formal recommendations about gays serving in the military. It should be noted that these flag officers only agreed to do so under the guarantee that their findings, opinions and recommendations would be published, no matter what side of the issue they came done on. The Palm Center readily agreed to this stipulation.

The Study Group heard the testimony of gay and straight service members, both recent and past former DoD officials, officers from our military allies who permit gays to serve openly, academic experts on the topic of gays in the military (including a faculty member from the USMA at West Point), and legal experts. Opponents of gays serving openly in the military were invited but refused to participate.

The Study Group made the following findings:

  1. The law locks the militaryís position into stasis and does not accord any trust to the Pentagon to adapt policy to changing circumstances;
  2. Military laws and regulations provide commanders with sufficient means to discipline inappropriate conduct;
  3. DADT has forced some commanders to choose between breaking the law and preserving the cohesion of their units;
  4. DADT has prevented some gay, lesbian and bisexual service members from obtaining psychological and medical care as well as religious counseling;
  5. DADT has caused the military to lose some talented service members;
  6. DADT has compelled some gay, lesbian and bisexual service members to lie about their identity;
  7. Many gays, lesbians and bisexuals are serving openly;
  8. DADT has made it harder for some gays, lesbians and bisexuals to perform their duties;
  9. Military attitudes towards gays and lesbians are changing;
  10. Evidence shows that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly is unlikely to pose any significant risk to morale, good order, discipline or cohesion;

I donít think any of us who have been advocating repeal of DADT for many years could argue with any of these findings. And they were made by straight, 3-stars from each service and a USMC 1-star.

The recommendations from the Study Group are as follows:

  1. Congress should repeal 10 USC 654 and return authority for personnel policy under this law to the Department of Defense;
  2. The DoD should eliminate "donít tell" while maintaining current authority under the UCMJ and service regulations to preclude misconduct prejudicial to good order and discipline and unit cohesion. The prerogative to disclose sexual orientation should be considered a personal and private matter.
  3. Remove from DoD directives all references to "bisexual," "homosexual," "homosexual conduct," "homosexual acts," and "propensity." Establish in their place uniform standards that are neutral with respect to sexual orientation, such as prohibitions against any inappropriate public bodily contact for the purpose of satisfying sexual desires.
  4. Immediately establish and reinforce safeguards for the confidentiality of all conversations between service members and chaplains, doctors, and mental health professionals.

I have a problem with recommendation #1, as do many others who are advocating for repeal of DADT. Although the flags sincerely endorse allowing gays, lesbians and bisexuals to serve openly, simply repealing the law and returning authority for personnel policy totally back to DoD will put us at risk of some future DoD re-instituting a ban of GLB service and repealing recommendations 2-4 (assuming they are all implemented). In other words, without formal legal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation (in the same way there are formal legal protections against discrimination based on race, gender, and religion), there is a risk that a ban on gays serving could be put back in place at the stroke of a pen of the President or Secretary of Defense. Better would be to support the pending bill in the House of Representatives, HR1246, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would encode into law protections for GLB members entering the military.

Other than that one issue, I enthusiastically support the flag officersí Study Group. It is yet another example of senior, straight former military members, who have the broad knowledge, expertise and experience in matters of combat readiness and personnel management, offering their support for repealing DADT. These opinions, like those of former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili and the 52 other flag officers who recently advocated repeal of DADT, will no doubt carry significant weight inside the Pentagon. And it is there that our ultimate battle must be won. For without DoD support, I do not believe even a future Democratic President or Congress will have sufficient backing to repeal DADT.

That is why this Flag Officer Study Group Report is so vitally important.

You can find the entire report at the following link:


You can find You can find the Statement of Generals and Admirals at the following link:


You can find General Shalikashviliís statement at the following link:


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