Interest in the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was renewed again last weekend when as many as 200,000 people marched in Washington, D.C. to support gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights. During the weekend, Obama also gave a speech at the Human Rights Campaign dinner, once again promising to end the policy.
My opinion on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, since it was enacted in 1993, was always one of approval. The military is an institution based off unit cohesion, and anything that breaks the norms can serve to disrupt its effectiveness. This may seem like a primitive mindset, but with war as one of our most primal states as human beings, I was rolling along with this mindset.
But since I sat down to write this opinion piece and actually took more time to look into the issue, it now seems that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is rapidly becoming an outdated ideal, and its days should be numbered.
The policy, composed by Colin Powell and supported by President Clinton, was enacted as a compromise to the former complete ban on gays in the military.
It currently prohibits any homosexual or bisexual person from disclosing his or her sexual orientation in any way while serving in the U.S. armed forces. At the same time, no superior can investigate a service member’s sexual orientation in the absence of disallowed behaviors.
So we have to ask ourselves a few questions. Is the military as a whole ready to accept people of varying sexual orientations? Will anti-gay violence increase in the military if gays are allowed? Is the military missing out on great recruits who have highly sought skills because of the policy?
First off, the answers and decisions must come from within the military itself, not from outsiders who have never been in active duty, this includes Obama himself.
It seems the tide of this issue is changing within the armed services. Air Force colonel Om Prakash, who once fought to keep gay service members out of the ranks, displays this.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been costly both in personnel and treasure,” Prakash states in an essay in the latest issue of Joint Force Quarterly. He discusses countries where gays serve openly such as Britain, Australia, Canada and Israel, and found their decisions to lift the ban on gays had, “no impact on military performance, readiness, cohesion or ability to recruit or retain.”
And anti-gay violence has actually decreased in the British military since lifting the ban back in 2000. It has been theorized that this is a result of victims’ ability to report harassment without fearing their own termination, thus decreasing those likely to engage in anti-gay behavior.
There is also evidence suggesting that despite their cover-up, 65,000 gay men and women are currently serving in our armed forces, and there are more than 1 million gay veterans. Since enactment of the policy more than 16 years ago, 13,000 personnel have been forced out of the military due to sexual orientation.
“Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job,” said former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired General John Shalikashvili.
Not to mention that reservists and National Guard members have even been found using the policy to escape combat by pretending to be gay.
This issue could be related back to Civil War times when our service members faced a similar situation with the thought of fighting next to an African American. And these people ended up beating everyone’s doubts as they became a very valued asset to the Union Army and played large role in the victory over the Confederates.
So even with my understanding for the argument of group cohesion, I feel it’s time for service men to learn to fight next to one another, despite personal differences.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell may have been suited for the times 16 years ago, but a lot has changed in attitudes toward sexuality in this country, and the policy should be revisited. But as an outsider, I feel the ultimate decision should come from within the armed forces.
Andy Kruse is an anthropology graduate student. His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.