Rest in Peace – Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (RIP DADT)

 Originally published on Suite101 on Sept. 20, 2011

Barbbytes DADT.jpgDon’t ask, don’t tell was written in 1993 as a band-aid measure  to mitigate the earlier complete ban on gays in the military. For gays and others, however, DADT, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, was an insult masquerading as an antidote. According to DADT, gays in the military were allowed to be gay so long as they did not announce their homosexuality, broadcast their sexual orientation, be perceived as being in a gay relationship, marry their gay partner, or forthrightly live their life as a gay person.

The Impact of DADT

Just now coming to the legal age of 18 years, the DADT policy has come under increasing fire from gays and straights alike. President Obama made it one of his “calls to arms” when he came into office in January of 2009. Hundreds of gay service men and women have continued to beseech the president to push for the repeal. Some even received personal responses when they wrote to Barack Obama at the White House. One of those was Sandy Tsao, a Chinese American service woman, who said in her letter to the president:

” I have fought and overcome many barriers to arrive at the point I am at today. This is the only battle I fear I may lose. Even if it is too late for me, I do hope, Mr. President, that you will help us to win the war against prejudice so that future generations will continue to work together and fight for our freedoms regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin or sexual orientation.”

Her story and her sacrifice is just one in thousands of similar stories. Today will be a day of celebration for all of those who will be able to live under the kinder, more tolerant attitudes of the United States military. Each year for the past eighteen, hundreds of service people were thrown out of the military solely on the basis of their sexual orientation. For example, statistics released in 2009 show an average of 600-700 service people kicked out each year for the last decade. In a time of debt and deficit, many are staggered by the information that replacing these discharged soldiers costs the tax payers $22,000 to $43,000 each. Williams Institute study by Dr. Gary Gates has demonstrated that the repeal of DADT could well save the government millions of dollars per year.

What the Opposition Said and What Actually Happened

Opponents of gays in the military, whether they “told” or not, have long said that, in addition to the moral factors, largely based on religion, a gay/straight military would disintegrate because of the lack of cohesion and camaraderie. Gays and straights, they maintained, would not support each other in a crunch. This argument has proven specious in all of those countries where gays are freely admitted into the ranks of the military and serve alongside their hetero sisters and brothers.

Even our allies, whose countries have relaxed their bans on gays in the military, have had to admit that the response was, well, boring. No fire works, no mass exodus, no refusal to serve. In fact, neither Canada, Australia, nor England could find enough negative incidents to formulate a reasonable report. In short, the reaction among the straight military in those countries was next to nil.

What Will Change and What Will Take Time

“I know all of his military buddies and their personalities. I know all of their stories, their family situations, and not a single one of them knows that I even exist,” mourned Darin Brunstad, a gay military spouse. Now, through the work of the National Military Family Association, the NMFA, and other groups, same sex spouses and partners will cease being the obscure, unspoken of, and ignored feature of a gay service man’s or woman’s personal life. So elated are those impacted by this legislation that 39% have confirmed that they will “come out” to someone in the military immediately, with the rest to no doubt follow shortly.

Over time, all those benefits that serve to protect and support the families of people in the military will be available for the spouses and families of gay and lesbian personnel. Most important for all is the gift of living their lives openly. The U.S. Army has sent a memo to personnel around the globe, “From this day forward, gay and lesbian soldiers may serve in our Army with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Amen

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