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President Obama and the Future
of Donít Ask, Donít Tell


RADM Al Steinman

We finally have a President who supports gays serving honestly in the military. Itís been a longtime coming, but weíre not there yet. President Elect Obama has stated he supports repeal of Donít Ask, Donít Tell (DADT), but only after thoroughly discussing it with his military advisors. His post-election transition website contains the following statement1:

"The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. Obama will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy [DADT] and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals."

Here are my thoughts on this issue:

1) Having senior military officer support for repeal is critical.  Even with a Democratic White House, and Democrats in control of the House of Representatives and Senate, repealing the law will be difficult without Department of Defense concurrence.  The Joint Chiefs of Staff must tell Congress and the American people that the military has the leadership capabilities to make it work, and that the military welcomes all Americans who want to serve their country and who meet entrance standards.  If the Joint Chiefs present the same old arguments that surfaced in 1993, namely gays serving openly would degrade unit morale, unit cohesion and combat readiness, there may well be insufficient support in Congress for repeal.

2) Repeal of DADT would do nothing more than allow gays and lesbians to serve in the military under the exact same rules and regulations as everyone else.   I think it is important to keep this concept in mind. It is nothing more than equality under military rules. Under DADT gays and lesbians, who put their lives on the line, suffer the same risks, discomfort and dislocations of deployment as do their straight peers, have to suffer the additional burden of living in constant fear that their career can be instantly terminated if the wrong person finds out about them.  They frequently have to lie about who they are, what they do on their off-duty time, who their family members are, to whom their writing letters, making phone calls, etc.   Straight service members have none of these problems.

3) Repeal of the DADT law would end the manpower drain of not only the 600-700 people kicked out under the provisions of the law, but more significantly it would end the loss of 2500-3500 troops who leave each year quietly and voluntarily because they're tired of living in fear and living a lie.  Thatís about 3000-4000 people annually who leave the military because of DADT. These troops include many highly skilled individuals: pilots, doctors, nurses, engineers, corpsmen, language specialists, as well as ground troops, sailors, airmen and even special forces personnel.   All of these individuals are trained, experienced and paid-for; a raw recruit out of boot camp or a nugget officer out of OCS cannot easily replace any of them.  

4) A majority of current Iraq/Afghanistan troops say they know gays serving alongside them.  A recent Zogby International/Palm Center poll of the troops2 found that 23% of them said they knew for certain there were gays in their own unit (and most said more than one), and another 45% said they suspected there were gays in their own unit (and again, most said more than one). That means that 68% of the troops either know for certain or suspect there are gays in their own unit.  Yet unit morale, unit cohesion and combat readiness are obviously not suffering.  These facts alone destroy the entire philosophical foundation used to justify and promulgate the DADT law.

5) There are an estimated 65,000 gay and lesbian service men and women currently serving in the military; all of them are at risk of being kicked out under the current law.  As indicated above, many of them choose to leave, when they otherwise would have stayed in, because of strains of serving under DADT. 

6) 26 of our foreign military allies, including all of our English-speaking allies (Canada, Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom) allow gays to serve honestly; none of these nations report any of the problems assumed to occur when gays are allowed to serve alongside their straight counterparts.  And many of our own troops serve right alongside gay troops from these allies, again without any problems of unit morale, unit cohesion or combat readiness. Furthermore, Israel has long allowed gays to serve openly, and who in their right mind would question the combat readiness of the Israeli Defense Forces?

7) Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shaliskashvili (who had to implement DADT when it was originally enacted and who originally supported the reasoning behind the law) has stated that the nation and the military have changed over the past 15 years so that gays can now serve honestly without fear of hurting the military. He has now been joined by over 100 other flag officers who recently published a statement advocating gays serving openly in the U.S. Armed Forces3. In addition, this past summer a Flag Officer Study Group4, consisting of a Navy Vice Admiral, Lieutenant Generals from the Army and Air Force, and a Brigadier General from the Marine Corps, recommended that the DADT law be rescinded.

Finally, nobody expects President-elect Obama to make repeal of DADT a high priority, as the nation obviously has more important problems to solve (particularly the economy). But hopefully the new President will keep DADT in mind when he considers his new appointments for Joint Chiefs of Staff. This is critical, as I stated above. Then perhaps sometime during the next two years we can look forward to a time when patriotic gay Americans can serve their country with the same honor and dignity as do their straight counterparts.

1. http://www.365gay.com/news/obama-posts-campaign-pledges-on-lgbt-rights/
2. http://www.palmcenter.org/publications/dadt/dont_ask_dont_tell_isnt_working_survey_reveals_shift_in_military_attitudes
3. http://www.palmcenter.org/press/dadt/releases/104Generals%2526Admirals-GayBanMustEnd

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