This Thing Called Courage

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ready to End Don't Ask/Don't Tell?


Asking And Telling

This is from Progressive Democrats of America. Personally, while I do think it's high time our military stop discriminating against GLBT people, I think we need to start allowing another group to serve in our armed forces, a group even more absent from our Fighting Forces than gays and lesbians: the rich that start these wars, and benefit from them-- including, naturally, members of the three branches of our government, corporate heads (especially those from the military-industrial complex), lobbyists, and their friends and family members.


Fifteen years ago yesterday, President Clinton announced the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy, which was meant to relax the long-standing ban on gay men and women serving in the military. The government would no longer ask recruits whether they were gay, and in turn, servicemembers would be able to remain in the military as long as they didn't reveal their sexual orientations. This policy is outdated, discriminatory, and impeding the military's progress. Since 1993, the military has booted 12,300 servicemembers under DADT, including at least 58 valuable Arabic language specialists. Today, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel will be holding the first congressional hearings on DADT in 15 years. They come at a time that support for repealing the ban is increasing. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 75 percent of Americans believe "gay people who are open about their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military" -- a dramatic rise from the 61 percent who supported the notion in 2001. Human Rights Campaign has organized a campaign telling Congress to repeal DADT here.PENTAGON NO-SHOW: No Pentagon officials will be testifying at today's hearings. Subcommittee chairwoman Susan Davis (D-CA) said that she put in a request to the Defense Department, "but at this particular time...they're really not quite willing to come forward." Gay rights activists are disappointed at this no-show. "At a time when the military is relaxing every possible standard to attract new recruits...one would hope and expect that Defense Department leaders would be first in line to call on Congress to repeal the law," said Steve Ralls of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. One of the people testifying today is Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, who is gay and was the first U.S. soldier wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom. "We're allowing our prejudice to be put into action by allowing this discriminatory policy of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' to still exist, even in this day and age," he told the Washington Blade. In 2006, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) introduced the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would overturn DADT. The legislation now has 133 co-sponsors, including five Republicans, although President Bush is expected to veto it if it ever passes. OUTDATED AND IMPRACTICAL: DADT makes no sense, especially at at time when the military is struggling to recruit and retain soldiers. A 2005 study by the Williams Project at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, found that as many as 41,000 new recruits could be found if the ban were repealed, "enough people to entirely staff half a dozen aircraft carriers." Additionally, gay servicemembers pose no risk to the unity or effectiveness of the armed forces; there is increasing evidence that many soldiers are already aware of their colleagues' sexual orientation. CBS's "60 Minutes" recently did a segment on whether commanders were becoming less strict in enforcing the ban on openly gay servicemembers. During the segment, correspondent Lesley Stahl spoke with Army Sgt. Darren Manzella, who said he was very open about his homosexuality and even introduced his fellow soldiers to his boyfriend. The Army was forced to open an investigation, but Manzella was eventually cleared to go back to work. He said he was basically told by his commanders, "I don't care if you're gay or not." Only after the CBS story was Manzella discharged. "My sexual orientation certainly didn't make a difference when I treated injuries and saved lives in the streets of Baghdad," said Manzella. "It shouldn't be a factor in allowing me to continue to serve." Servicemembers Legal Defense Network is aware of more than 500 U.S. soldiers who are "out" to their colleagues and continue to serve.TIME FOR A CHANGE: Calls to repeal DADT continue to grow, even coming from the law's original architects and supporters. As chairman of the powerful Armed Forces Committee in the 1990s, then-senator Sam Nunn led a series of hearings that helped undermine Clinton's attempt to lift the ban on gays in the military. But last month, Nunn said it is time to re-examine DADT. "I think [when] 15 years go by on any personnel policy, it's appropriate to take another look at it," he said. Last month, Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen also said that the military was ready to accept gay servicemembers if Congress repeals DADT. A December 2006 survey of servicemembers who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan found 73 percent of those polled were "comfortable with lesbians and gays." A new report by four retired senior military officers and sponsored by the Palm Center in California also calls for a repeal of DADT, marking "the first time a Marine Corps general has ever called publicly for an end to the gay ban." The officers concluded that allowing gays to serve openly "is unlikely to pose any significant risk to morale, good order, discipline, or cohesion." In a significant shift, last year, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John M. Shalikashvili said that he no longer supported DADT and said that "if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces."

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