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Why DADT Repeal Implementation is “Shovel Ready”

By Michael Bedwell

For nearly four decades, millions of American tax dollars have paid to create policies and programs to “maximize combat readiness” by “fostering positive human relations throughout diverse armed services” to which out gay service members could easily and swiftly be added.

With many in the gay community still swooning over the surprise roses for repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Secretary Robert Gates and ADM. Mike Mullen brought to their February 2nd Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, a certain numbness to the prick of their thorns persists to our peril. In short, the Secretary, seconded by the Chair of the Joint Chiefs, insisted that, despite the President’s general endorsement, repeal should wait until after the Pentagon completes another study, lasting at least until the end of the year, and that whenever repeal might happen after that they must be given another year to implement it. I believe such a timeline is objectively unsupportable on its face, and disastrous in the chilling effect it’s had on votes to repeal before the makeup of Congress changes with November’s midterm elections dooming repeal entirely.

While the Secretary proposed a nearly two-year process, a recent Palm Center study found that none of the other countries who have lifted their bans took more than four months to implement. Gates described three alleged unknowns he wanted studied that, when deconstructed, amount to two lavender herrings: surveying straight service members, as well as their families, for their opinion of the “impact” repeal would have on them, and the “impact” on military policies and procedures. In fact, the word “impact” was used so many times during the hearing that one could easily have based a new drinking game on it. Even as both men admitted that they “just didn’t know” if, in fact, such “negative impact,” “disruption,” “polarization,” pox and pustules would actually occur, they, nonetheless, for reasons unexplained, began with the presumption they were so likely to happen that Congress should do nothing until the Pentagon proves they won’t.

The Palm Center, consistently more dedicated to trading facts than political horse trading, has also responded forcefully to the first irrational rationale, asserting that the Pentagon should only, “consult troops for relevant information rather than ask their permission for reform.” http://palmcenter.org/files/PalmCenterIssuesKeyRecommendationsToPentagonWorkingGroup%20.pdf How can that require a minimum of 11 months?

Nathaniel Frank, author of “Unfriendly Fire,” adds, “The ‘unit cohesion’ rationale was essentially made up by senior military officers and political pundits who were either clueless or hateful. Dozens of studies conducted across fifty years have failed to find a shred of evidence for the unit cohesion argument.”

While Frank has touched upon it in his writing, I’ve never seen the solution for most of the various issues lumped into Gates’ second excuse, which seems to imagine the need for a virtual reinvention of the military in terms of policies and procedures, adequately explained. In fact, in most ways, integration of out gays is “shovel ready” and, under no circumstances, would require a year more to actualize.

“In the beginning….”

This is not the first time Gates has advanced the idea that lifting the ban would be an undertaking of tectonic proportions, apparently based on his understanding of history. Referring to President Truman’s order to racially integrate the military in 1948, Gates has noted, “It was five years before the process was completed.”

Like so many comments over the last year by both the President and members of his administration relative to DADT, that supposed lesson from history is another wrong one. For it wasn’t that racial integration NEEDED to take so long but that it was ALLOWED to.

In truth, his math is wrong. It was actually allowed to take much longer than five years, but the more important point is that, despite the fact that it has became the custom for each new Secretary of Defense to formally reaffirm the DoD’s commitment to equal opportunity, he seems unaware of how deeply detailed and widely staffed the military’s programs to enforce that mandate are, from the Pentagon to the smallest, farthest flung base around the world, to which gays could be easily added as simply another module.

Gates’ remark references the completion of military integration of the active services during the Korean War. But several National Guard units were still segregated in 1962 when Gates’ predecessor Robert McNamara convinced President Kennedy to announce the President’s Committee on Equality of Opportunity in the Armed Forces chaired by attorney Gerhard Gesell. The results of their investigations echoed findings of the Civil Rights Commission, but it was their recommendations that were revolutionary—on paper.

One of their solutions was to include in each local commander’s performance review an evaluation of how much he had done to eliminate racial discrimination. That was, predictably, met with great resistance, and, little changed except on the few bases the committee visited because the institution itself was not forced to follow the Secretary’s directives released on the 50th anniversary of President Truman’s Executive Order. McNamara later admitted, "I was naive enough in those days to think that all I had to do was show my people that a problem existed, tell them to work on it, and that they would then attack the problem. It turned out of course that not a goddamn thing happened."

It wasn’t quite that bad; for instance, the last ten states that had "resisted like hell" began at least token integration of their guard units by 1964. But, for the most part, all branches were allowed to mostly ignore the Secretary’s recommendations, and racist attitudes and racial discrimination remained rampant until the nation and the Pentagon were rocked by a series of serious racial conflicts in the late 1960s and early 70s on bases and ships around the world; from Kentucky to Korea.

The worst of these was a riot at Travis Air Force Base in California that lasted three days, resulting in numerous injuries, arson, the arrest of 135 airmen, and the DoD and White House in shock. It was sparked by something as simple as an argument between whites and blacks over the latter playing “their” music too loudly, but it was fueled by a number of preceding incidents including the belief by black airmen that officials should ban white airmen renting from off-base segregated housing [an issue identified by the Gesell Committee years before], and the growing anger that the military was not keeping up with the changing civilian times even as black inductees entered no longer willing to put up with blatant discrimination and harassment while too many whites were allowed to bring their civilian racism with them. At the same time, they were angry about other issues the Committee had addressed: the lack of black officers overall and the lack of leadership of white officers who tolerated or even encouraged racial intolerance and discrimination in military job assignments and advancement.

The immediate result was the creation of the Defense Race Relations Institute and mandatory race relations classes throughout the Air Force that were expanded to all the branches. Today the agency is called the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute [DEMOI] and has mostly moved away from “sensitivity training” which confronted racist attitudes to placing more emphasis on behaviors and dispute avoidance and resolution. From its $24 million, two-story, 94,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility on Patrick Air Force base in Florida, its current Commandant, CAPT Kathlene Contres, is the highest ranking Hispanic woman in the Navy, and only five command levels below Secretary Gates. Since the elimination of segregated branches for women and their acceptance at military academies, DEOMI has expanded its charter to include programs on sexual harassment and sexism, as well as extremism, culture, ethnic studies, religious accommodations, and anti-Semitism as the “foundation in the building of leadership.”   

Communication of our modern military’s embrace of diversity begins as part of an eight-hour course for new enlistees which makes clear that discrimination against fellow servicemembers on the basis of race, color, gender, or religion will not be tolerated; nor will sexual harassment; nor will harassment of anyone perceived to be gay. Yes, that is ALREADY a rule the military teaches. From their PowerPoint presentation:

ZERO TOLERANCE FOR HARASSMENT

          Definition:  Derogatory, persistent, threatening or annoying behavior directed toward an individual or group.

          Possible types of harassment

         Verbal (on or off duty)

         Jody calls regarding homosexuals

         Derogatory language or references about homosexuals

         Graffiti in latrines, bulletin boards, etc.

         Anonymous threats; telephonic, electronic, etc.

HARASSMENT

          All soldiers will be treated with dignity and respect and will be afforded a safe and secure environment in which to live and work. 

          Harassment of soldiers for any reason, to include perceived homosexuality, will not be tolerated.

          Commanders at every level will take appropriate action to prevent harassment of or threats against any member of the Army.

With 1.4 million on active duty around the world, and another 800,000 reservists, in order to be successful the Military Equal Opportunity program [MEO] requires a massive network of people and programs for which DEOMI has been called “the mother ship.” Note the familiar keywords in their mission statements, all echoed in the Senate testimony of both Gates and Mullen: helping our armed forces “maximize unit cohesion and maintain the highest degree of combat readiness while maintaining the DoD reputation as a place where all individuals have infinite dignity and worth.” Their Vision Statement declares DEOMI “is a force multiplier,” and their logo combines symbols of Justice, Equality, and Truth.

Its backbone are the classes taught by DEOMI on its campus, in the field, and online, training Equal Opportunity [EO] advisors and counselors for commands throughout the branches who were finally told that their careers depended upon minimizing hostile environments, enforcing nondiscrimination, and creating positive “diversity climates” which are measured in annual surveys of service members; nearly all requirements recommended by McNamara’s committee years before.

The basic, multi week Equal Opportunity Advisor training covers Communication Skills, Ethics, Socialization, Individual Diversity, Cultural Awareness (Race & Ethnic Studies), Religious Diversity/Accommodation, Power & Privilege, Prejudice & Discrimination, Racism, Extremism, Sexism, Sexual Harassment, Victimology, Diversity Management, Mediation, Organizational Assessment, and Complaint Processing.

Over 30,000 people involved in various aspects of MEO have been trained so far. DEOMI publishes its own magazine, brochures, and training manuals; produces videos, podcasts, satellite broadcasts, and materials for producing base “special observances," one of the main responsibilities of military EO professionals.

Designed to promote “harmony among all military members and their families” and “equal opportunity goals, ethics, and values” by recognizing “the continuous achievements” of women, various races, ethnic groups, and religions, observances might involve just displaying educational posters on bases worldwide and/or organizing events on each base recognizing such things as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, birthday, the Holocaust, and Native American military service. Popular religious panels include not just the usual suspects but also Hinduism, Buddhism, and Wicca.

One of DEOMI’s videos is called, “Who's on Your Team?” which addresses the variety of people servicemembers might encounter in their duties spanning race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, age, and, among the DoD’s hundreds of thousands of civilian employees they might work with, disability and sexual orientation.

 “Equal Opportunity Hotlines” are available in every branch to which one may anonymously report incidents of discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, or political affiliation, as well as sexual harassment or assault. The Army provides local numbers on its bases; the Air Force has a toll-free national number: 1-888-231-4058.

A painful irony is that DEOMI has become so successful that, in addition to training American federal civilian employee managers, they now also conduct an International Military Student Program to, “Serve as a resource for equal opportunity, human relations, and diversity training and consultation to requesting international clients” that include Canada, Great Britain, Slovenia, and South Africa, who, unlike the government of their instructors, allow out gays to serve.

In sum, contrary to Secretary Gates’ apparent belief that the DoD would need to reinvent their wheel to implement DADT repeal, DEOMI has already mapped how minority groups of all kinds can be integrated in ways that far from disrupting unit cohesion strengthen it whenever the message of inclusion and nondiscrimination is quickly and clearly communicated by strong leadership as multiple studies of institutional change methodology, including the 1993 RAND study commissioned then ignored by the Pentagon, have demonstrated.

A realistic template and timeline are already contained in the House Military Readiness Enhancement Act that gay groups have been advocating for for five years:

“Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall revise Department of Defense regulations, and shall issue such new regulations as may be necessary…. The Secretary of Defense shall further direct the Secretary of each military department to revise regulations of that military department … not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act. Such revisions shall include the following:

(1) Revision of all equal opportunity and human relations regulations, directives, and instructions to add sexual orientation nondiscrimination to the Department of Defense Equal Opportunity policy and to related human relations training programs.

(2) Revision of Department of Defense and military department personnel regulations to eliminate procedures for involuntary discharges based on sexual orientation.

(3) Revision of Department of Defense and military department regulations governing victims’ advocacy programs to include sexual orientation discrimination among the forms of discrimination for which members of the Armed Forces and their families may seek assistance.”

Last year, a gay servicemember serving in silence in Iraq while blogging for 365gay.com as “Michael Duffy” wrote about the constant messaging from “commercials” on Armed Forces Network television. You want to watch a stateside football game or LOST? You’re going to hear again and again that the military now has zero tolerance for sexual harassment. In addition, there are annual mandatory trainings. The message is clear: if you make someone uncomfortable by making unwelcome comments or committing actions that might be considered sexual in nature, you could get a reprimand or endanger your military career.”

He added this insight: “My own infantry unit can’t spend 15 minutes together without lapsing into some type of homophobic or misogynistic diatribe. The amazing thing is that when an unfamiliar woman is in their midst their vocabulary immediately becomes devoid of the previous perverse jocularity. What this means to me is that it is possible for them to refrain from being offensive for as long as required. Whether it was the threat of the military’s zero tolerance of sexual harassment or some other chivalrous reason, my colleagues can hold their tongues if need be. They will be able to hold their tongues about gays and lesbians as well, if they’re told to.”

Imagine a series of “special observances” posters featuring images of gay Navy veteran Harvey Milk, retired outstanding lesbian Army nurse Grethe Cammermeyer, the first American wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom, former gay Marine Eric Alva, or gay Marine Vietnam veteran, the late Oliver Sipple who saved President Ford from assassination. Or gay GI Robert Fleischer who helped liberate Dachau, asking one of its half-dead inmates, “Du bist Juden?” “Me, too.”

But they should start with the story of one of the agency’s most gifted instructors, late T. SGT. Leonard Matlovich who had been teaching what were then called “Race Relations” classes when he decided to out himself to his commanding officer as the first to fight the military’s ban 35 years ago, a fact DADT opponents have failed to recognize and exploit. Before his discharge, the Air Force had sent him around the country to train other RR teachers, and 93% of over 1500 students rated him the best instructor they’d ever had. And, after his discharge, despite philosophical support from Gerhard Gesell, by then a federal judge after having led that study of military racism for President Kennedy, someone in President Carter’s Justice Department recognized both the power of such symbolism and the potential of the man to help the military change, and tried, unsuccessfully, to convince the Air Force to hire him as a civilian “gay relations instructor.”

Next year is the 40th anniversary of DEOMI. If our first minority Commander-in-Chief and his Secretary of Defense choose to be the leaders this moment in History demands, if the Pentagon is willing to learn by its early mistakes when integrating people of color and women, and from its subsequent rise to a model of equal opportunity for them today, by then the 67 years of government sanctioned homophobia can have ended and someone like LT. Dan Choi can complete Leonard’s mission in a second way: helping teach America’s armed forces that America’s guarantee of freedom applies to us, too.

“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.” - Maya Angelou

Michael Bedwell is a former president of Washington's Gertrude Stein Democratic Club and the creator of www.leonardmatlovich.com.

  2010 Gay Military Signal