2007-08 Winner: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Inquiry and Report of a Controversy” by Shima Houshyar
On October 27, 1992 Petty Officer Allen R. Schindler was brutally murdered in Japan by his shipmates in an anti-gay hate crime. This event, and many other cases of harassment of homosexuals within the military were brought to the attention of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee. The Committee held hearings to change regulations regarding allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military. On November 30, 1993 President Bill Clinton signed the anti-gay bill, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” into law. This policy prohibits investigation of servicemembers by the military for the sole purpose of finding out their sexual orientation and it also bans servicemembers from revealing their own or inquiring about others’ sexual orientation. Those whose sexual identity is revealed or discovered can be discharged on the mere basis of being gay, lesbian or bisexual. For fifteen years since the signing of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” into law, countless organizations have conducted research, investigations and polls to ascertain the morality and benefit of this controversial law. Based on information from these polls and research studies, it is long past time to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” for three main reasons: it is a discriminatory law, not supported by civilian and military opinion, that forces gay, lesbian, and bisexual people to hide their identities; the ban is detrimental to the military’s reputation and our national security by drawing a plethora of anti-military sentiments from all across the nation; and finally, the gay ban is hurting the military financially and unnecessarily costing the taxpayers millions of dollars.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is the only law in the United States that forces individuals to be dishonest about their identities. It discriminates against gay, lesbian and bisexual people who have decided to place their lives in danger to serve their country and ensure the security, safety and freedom of the rest of us. The Michael D. Palm Center, previously known as Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military, recently reported that an estimated sixty-four gay and lesbian servicemembers have been killed since the beginning of the war in Iraq in 2003. The article quotes Gary Gates, a senior research fellow at the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, claiming, “approximately 1.4 percent of active duty men and 9.3 percent of active duty women are gay” (Nathaniel 1). If one assumes that the total number of deaths of gay and lesbian servicemembers is proportional to the total number of deaths in the rest of U.S. military in the Iraq war, then about fifty-five men and nine women who have died were gay. Even though just an estimate, these statistics are the most accurate information that exist, since the current law does not allow the disclosure of the soldiers’ sexual orientation. However, this information provides us with a good sense of how many gay, lesbian and bisexual people have sacrificed their lives to serve their fellow Americans.
The reason most often cited for not allowing gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals to serve openly is that the disclosure of people’s sexual identity will cause discomfort among the troops and disrupt the unit cohesion that is needed for the soldiers to trust and work effectively with one another. However, according to a news article in the USA Today Magazine, there is evidence that the military’s view about homosexuality has changed since the 1990s. Recent polls illustrate that one in four troops claim they know for certain that someone in their unit is gay or lesbian, and three in four are personally comfortable with having gay people in their unit (7). On November 30, 2007 a group of twenty-eight retired generals and admirals released a statement calling for the repeal of the current gay ban, stating, “Our service members are professionals who are able to work together effectively despite differences in race, gender, religion, and sexuality,” and that “such collaboration reflects the strength and the best traditions of our democracy” (Lusero 1). All of these sentiments within the military go against the underlying reason for the existence of the law and it seems that opinions within the military are shifting in favor of gays and lesbians serving openly. However, in a new poll conducted by Center for a New American Security and reported by the Michael D. Palm Center on January 14, 2008, only 22% of 3,437 U.S. active duty and retired officers at or above the rank of major or lieutenant commander support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly (Nathaniel 1), which is clearly in conflict with the information presented in the two news articles mentioned above. After a series of hate-crimes and harassment cases directed towards gays and lesbians, the Department of Defense expanded the name of the law to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue, Don’t Harass,” in order to show the public that they did not support such harassment and intolerance. The Department of Defense even has a policy, mandating training to prevent anti-gay harassment in the military; however, according to the USA Today article, “40% [of troops] declare they have not received this type of training” (7). Therefore, even though the soldiers and junior officers are in favor of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and there is a general sense of increasing tolerance in the society at large, there are still a lot of anti-gay sentiments within the military. There is also evidence that shows that the majority of the American public support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly. According to an Anneberg 2004 survey, reported on the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) website, sixty-seven percent of civilians support allowing gays to serve openly. Even the conservative network, Fox News, reported in 2003 that sixty-four percent of Americans support the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (1). Therefore, the majority of troops and civilians do not support this discriminatory law.
Not only is the gay ban contrary to public opinion, but according to new research carried out by Aaron Belkin of the University of California Santa Barbara, it is also deleterious to the military’s reputation. Belkin states in his study titled, “‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’: Does the Gay Ban Undermine the Military’s Reputation?” published in Armed Forces and Society journal, that the gay ban “prompts many journalists to criticize the armed forces while attracting almost no favorable media coverage, [and] it provides a vehicle for antimilitary protesters to portray military culture as conflicting with widely accepted civilian values” (277). According to Belkin, there is almost no positive coverage of the gay ban in the media. Well-known newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune have all posted editorials and articles calling for a repeal of the infamous law. Even small-town, red-state conservative papers such as the Charleston Gazette and the Daily Courier call for an end to this ban (281-282). In 1999, high schools denied military recruiters access to their campuses on 19,228 separate occasions in order to challenge the Pentagon’s policy on allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly. Every year the Pentagon spends millions of dollars in various forms of advertisement, and it is clear that improving the military’s reputation is quite significant for recruitment and maintaining high morale among the troops. It is true that the military’s reputation is mostly affected by factors such as whether the country is at war, or whether the military officials are honest and clear about the information they disclose to the public, but recent studies have shown that the military’s reputation is also affected by how it treats minorities (276). The issue of allowing gays to serve openly in the military is quite similar to the issue of allowing African-Americans to serve alongside whites in the 1940s, and also to the role of women in the military in more recent years. It appears that the current anti-military sentiments among citizens are mainly a result of the widespread opposition to the war in Iraq and to President Bush’s policies; however, the current gay ban definitely plays a role, since it “is a vehicle that allows…individuals to rally opposition against the Pentagon” (283) and its repeal will “improve the public’s impression of the armed forces, even among the conservatives” (Belkin 288). It is apparent that this policy has harmed the military’s reputation, especially since the majority of servicemembers and the American public are against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Ever since the establishment of this law, the military has experienced many financial setbacks and a lack of manpower because of discharges due to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” According to data provided by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, total discharges due to the gay ban have steadily increased from 617 in 1994 and have reached a peak of 1273 in 2001, and then decreased to 787 for 2003 (5). According to reports on the Human Rights Campaign website, 800 specialists with critical skills have been discharged from the military for being gay, including 323 linguists, 55 of whom specialized in Arabic. This is a grotesque distortion of our nation’s priorities. The HRC estimates that “American taxpayers have paid between $250 million and $1.2 billion to investigate, eliminate and replace qualified, patriotic service members who want to serve their country but can’t” (1). It is apparent that America cannot afford to lose and replace any more servicemembers with high security clearance and specialized skills. The shortage of military personnel is quite obvious from a news article that was published on April 21, 2008 on The Michael D. Palm Center’s website. This article illustrates that in 2006 and 2007 the military has hired many more criminal ex-offenders than previously known, by granting them moral waivers – which are given to people who normally would not be allowed to serve in the military. These are people who were convicted of serious crimes such as “sexual offenses, manslaughter, ‘terrorist threats including bomb threats,’ burglary, kidnapping or abduction, aggravated assault and sexual assault” (Nathaniel 1). It is absolutely appalling that gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals can be fired because of their sexual orientation, while the military grants convicted felons moral waivers to fill the resulting shortages.
It is apparent that our nation’s leaders and military have completely misplaced our country’s priorities. The majority of the American public and soldiers oppose “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which discriminates against individuals in the military solely based on their sexual orientation. This law is detrimental to the military’s reputation and is costing the military and the taxpayers millions of dollars. There is no evidence that allowing gays, lesbians and bisexuals to serve openly in the military will disrupt unit cohesion or decrease morale amongst the troops. In fact, the honesty resulting from the repeal of this notorious law will create stronger bonds among the men and women of our armed forces. Therefore, it is time to discard the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and instead install a policy that promotes honesty, tolerance, and equality for all.
“About Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. 16 Apr 2008 .c
Belkin, Aaron. “”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”: Does the Gay Ban Undermine the Military’s Reputation?.” Armed Forces and Society 34(2007): 276-291.
“Twenty-Eight Generals and Admirals Call for End to Military’s Gay Ban; Largest Such Group to Support Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’.” AScribe Law News Service (Nov 30, 2007): NA. Expanded Academic ASAP. Gale. University of Washington. 15 Apr. 2008
Frank, Nathaniel. “Vast Majority of Officers Oppose Allowing Gays to Serve Openly.” The Michael D. Palm Center. 04 Apr 2008. The Michael D. Palm Center. 16 Apr 2008 .
Frank, Nathaniel. “Estimated Sixty-Four Gay and Lesbian Servicemembers Killed since 2003.” The Michael D. Palm Center. 04 Apr 2008. The Michael D. Palm Center. 16 Apr 2008 .
Frank, Nathaniel. “Military Has Recruited More Serious Ex-Offenders Than Previously Known.” The Michael D. Palm Center. 21 Apr 2008. The Michael D. Palm Center. 21 Apr 2008 .
“‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ not working.(U.S. Military).” USA Today (Magazine) 135.2743 (April 2007): 7(1). Expanded Academic ASAP. Gale. University of Washington. 16 Apr. 2008
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Human Rights Campaign. 2007. Human Rights Campaign. 21 Apr 2008
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