Gay and discharged: talk on DADT
In his State of the Union address this past January, President Barack Obama made known his intention to "work with the military and Congress" to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT), the military policy that mandates that openly gay, lesbian or bisexual servicemembers be discharged. Soon afterward, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates testified before Congress with their intention to lay the groundwork for the change, that is, not whether the military should repeal DADT, but how to go about implementing the repeal.
In keeping up with these recent developments, The Bridge, the College's group for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (GLBTQ) students and allies, hosted U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant David Hall, of the Servicemembers' Legal Defense Network, who illuminated the debate surrounding the bill in his lecture "Lift the Ban." Since DADT's adoption in 1993, over 13,000 servicemembers have been discharged for their sexual orientation. Among these 13,000, 800 have been what Hall called "mission critical troops," or service members who are not easily replaceable and extremely necessary for the success of the current operations, such as Arabic and Farsi linguists and medical personnel. In his lecture, Hall highlighted the ethical and financial issues with this policy, through a mixture of personal anecdotes and objective statistics and facts. Hall began with his own experience in the military. Having served in the Air Force for five years, Hall was honorably discharged after his enlistment period ended. He then joined the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) where he was offered the opportunity to train to be a pilot. While enrolled in AFROTC, Hall began dating another cadet, and their relationship was discovered after another cadet outed them. Under DADT, an investigation began and Hall was honorably discharged for "homosexual conduct" a year into his training.
Before DADT, the paperwork for enlisting explicitly asked whether one was a homosexual. After the 1993 law, that explicit question was replaced by enforced silence on the gay servicemember's part. Once a person joins the military, he or she can be asked about his or her sexual orientation, but is obligated to never tell. In highlighting the arbitrary nature of the law, Hall offered an example involving his friend, who was an Arabic linguist. His commanding officers received an anonymous e-mail charging the linguist with being gay because of "the type of music he listened to, and because he liked theater." These pieces of information were enough to begin an investigation and result in his subsequent discharge.
Hall mentioned three cases in the federal courts that challenge the policy, most importantly Witt v. U.S. Air Force, which holds that the government needs to prove that the person being discharged under DADT hurts unit cohesion morale. However, going to court is a long process and usually show deference for the military. Going through Congress is the more efficient option. Currently, the House and the Senate are considering separate bills that would repeal DADT. In the interim, the Department of Defense has reviewed its policy so as to make DADT more humane until it is repealed. After a 45-day review, the policy now does not allow third-party outings, like that which resulted in Hall's discharge, requires that an admiral or general initiate any investigation rather than a local commander, and relieves military doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and/or religious advisors of the obligation to report any servicemembers who reveal their sexual orientation.
From a financial standpoint, it costs between $22,000-$43,000 to replace one person discharged under DADT. Since 1993, the military has lost between $290-$500 million in years of training, years of university paid for and other such costs by discharging soldiers before their enlistments ended.
Ethically, Hall noted that DADT is a matter of integrity. "There is a law in place that tells people 'you have to lie.' What does that do to the institution?" Hall asked rhetorically. Although the major argument in favor of keeping DADT is that the presence of openly gay soldiers would hurt unit cohesion morale, it seems that lying to one's unit about one's identity is even more damaging. Hall cited several polls showing that the majority of the American public supports the repeal of DADT, even the majority of Americans who identify as politically conservative. Just as importantly, polls show that the majority of soldiers would not have a problem serving with openly gay soldiers in their unit. In fact, Hall noted, many of the United States' allied countries allow openly gay service members to serve, and U.S. military work side by side with these openly gay servicemembers without any problems. Study after study has shown that unit cohesion is not hurt by openly gay soldiers.
Hall ended the lecture by stressing the importance of being politically engaged, calling your senators and representatives and asking them to support the bills in Congress to repeal DADT.