I’ve been meaning to blog about my recent “Lobby Day” experience for the Servicemembers’ Legal Defense Network (SLDN) since I completed it, but things have just been a bit hectic. [Update: added photo taken in Senator Stabenow's office (strong supporter!) during Lobby Day]
I’m guessing that most of my readers know that “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” (DADT) is a federal law (Public Law 103-160 – Nov. 30, 1993 – § 546, 107 Stat. 1670 (1993) (codified at 10 U.S.C. A. § 654)). It was passed by Congress in 1993 and signed into law by President Clinton. As such, it cannot simply be quietly changed – it takes an act of Congress to change it (or the Supreme Court finding that it is unconstitutional). But, did you also know that it is the ONLY federal law that mandates the discriminatory firing of servicemembers based solely upon coming out as gay, lesbian or bisexual? In fact the actual language of the law is “A member of the armed forces shall be separated  if  the member has stated that he or she is a homosexual or bisexual, or words to that effect…” (emphasis mine).
This is a bad law. Since its inception, over 10,000 service members have been separated from active duty at a conservatively estimated cost to us taxpayers of over $350 million (according to a 2006 Blue Ribbon Commission report). This, at a time when the government is having a difficult time meeting its recruitment goals. Moreover, many of these discharges are from critical specialties – including over 55 Arabic linguists and 9 Farsi linguists.
Obviously, people are hurt by this law on several levels. In a most fundamental way, we insist that, in order to serve your country in the armed forces, you must betray the very values and integrity that the services tries to instill in you. You must lie, every day. Once you are discovered (by, for example, confiding to a chaplain, or writing in your private diary, or having a vengeful ex out you, etc.) you are discharged from the service with a notation on your permanent service record and discharge paperwork (DD214) that you are homosexual, and are given a negative reenlistment code. But, also, the very fact that we have such a law fosters discrimination and harassment toward the approximately 64,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual service members currently serving. And, what can a gay service member do about such harassment?
The Pentagon supported the passage of this law under the theory that “unit cohesion” would suffer if we allowed gays to serve openly. However, study after study, including the DOD commissioned Rand Report, continues to debunk that myth. Moreover, many of our allies, including the British and the vaunted Israeli army, allow gays to openly serve, with minimal or no adverse consequences.
In addition to this being a bad law, it is poorly implemented. Despite the supposed fears of unit cohesion, the rates of discharge miraculously drop during time of war – when the need for unit cohesion would arguably be at its highest! This isn’t some fluke – this has occurred in every conflict over the past 50 years. Right now, the military is discharging approximately two qualified servicemembers a day – which has remained at a level of about 40% below the pre-Sept. 11 terrorist attacks (this is data provided by the Department of Defense). Additionally, women are disproportionately targeted. Despite representing only 15% of the force, they comprise 30% of the discharges under this law. Why do you suppose that is? It’s not because all the dykes in the country suddenly decide that joining the military is a good idea. The problem is, again, poor implementation and a poor law. All someone has to do is say you’re gay and it’s up to you to prove you’re not (how do you prove a negative?). Some guy doesn’t like the way a woman dresses him down for a service failure and he calls up and says she’s gay. Some guy makes a pass and she rebuffs him – well, surely she’s a lesbian! This is called lesbian-baiting. In fact, can you imagine what a weapon this is for people who don’t like you? “Do as I want, or I’ll turn you in as a homosexual”.
The SLDN isn’t the only one saying this – 116 members of Congress have finally signed onto a bill to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – The Military Readiness Enhancement Act, but that is way too few. A group of noted retired military generals and admirals have announced their support – including the highest ranking woman to ever serve, three-star Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy -- for an end to the ban. As the late Major General Barry Goldwater (a very conservative Republican, you might remember) once said: “You don’t have to be straight to shoot straight.”
So, in summary, this is a very bad law – it hurts real people, people who simply want to serve their country; it costs hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary expense to the taxpayer; it is unfairly implemented; and it reduces military readiness in the bargain – all, for zero positive gain to the country. What can you do about it?
Click here, and sign the petition. Take 5 minutes to download a letter and fire it off to your congressperson telling them that you support lifting the ban and the passage of the “Military Readiness Enhancement Act”. Please. Take the five minutes – now.