Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is Harmful and Hypocritical


Last month, General Peter Pace, the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reiterated his support for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a statute that bars openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual individuals from serving in the military. Speaking before the Senate Appropriations Committee, General Pace opined, “We should respect those who want to serve the nation, but not through the law of the land, condone activity that, in my upbringing, is counter to God’s law.” General Pace did not claim to be speaking on behalf of the Armed Forces; nevertheless, his comments were deeply offensive and hurtful to the estimated 65,000 lesbian, gay, or bisexual individuals currently serving on active duty and in the National Guard and Reserves. Those Americans deserve better. They deserve the opportunity to serve their country openly and with dignity. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is an embarrassment and should be repealed.

“Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is irreconcilable with sound military policy. An estimated 11,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual service members have already been discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” including dozens of Arabic linguists and hundreds of people possessing crucial skills in short supply. What would the military do if the remaining 65,000 lesbian, gay, or bisexual service members openly acknowledged their sexual orientation? What could it do? The military clearly cannot afford such a wide-scale loss at a time when our Armed Forces are under intense pressure in Iraq and other arenas of the War on Terror. Many commanding officers have turned a blind eye to the sexual orientation of their subordinates; annual discharges under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” have declined by almost 50% since 2001. Yet who is to say what will happen once the soldiers return home? Will the military allow gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members to fight-and die-for our country, only to discharge the rest once the need is past? Even if such discharge is required by law, is our society really willing to endorse such hypocrisy?

Moreover, there is no empirical evidence that allowing openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual individuals to serve would have a negative impact on military performance. To the contrary, an independent report issued by the Rand Corporation as early as 1993 found no justification for continuing the ban on service by gay, lesbian, or bisexual individuals. In fact, the armed forces of several countries-including those of Australia, Israel, Great Britain, and Canada-have since been integrated to include gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals without any significant upheaval. Indeed, given the close cooperation between the United States and its military allies, our integration with foreign armed forces has already resulted in a successful partial integration. After all, American service members often serve side-by-side with troops from military allies, some of whom may be openly gay, lesbian or bisexual. Even where the military is not directly interacting with a foreign military, American service members must still interact with a host of private defense contractors, many of whom do not adhere to a similar “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” principle. Such experiences belie the argument that exposure to openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual service members would inevitably result in loss of morale, lack of discipline, and plummeting unit cohesion.

In addition, repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would result in significant savings that could be applied elsewhere. The military must spend money investigating every allegation of open homosexuality in its ranks. The military incurs replacement costs every time a service member is actually discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” If the discharged service member possesses a critical skill, these replacement costs can sometimes include the cost of specialty training and issuing new security clearances. In 2006, a Blue Ribbon Panel found that the cost of implementing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was at least $363.8 million from fiscal year 1994 to fiscal year 2003. These expenses are unnecessary and entirely avoidable.Because the policy arguments clearly favor repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the debate has become a moral one about the acceptability of homosexuality in our society. Yet the debate is skewed and its terms are unfair. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” effectively silences those service members who have the most at stake and prevents them from participating in the debate. By its very terms, the law requires no affirmative conduct prior to discharge. Three simple words-“I am gay”-are sufficient. And it does not matter when or where those three words are uttered. So long as word somehow reaches a commanding officer, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” also applies to private acknowledgements of homosexuality to family and friends off the base. As a result, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” prevents lesbian, gay and bisexual service members from communicating their personal experiences until they have either been discharged or retired from the military.

Many lesbian and gay individuals can attest to the difficulty of life in the closet. It is a life of constant vigilance in which every moment is spent monitoring what we say, and to whom. It is a life of deception and lies, in which every slip that could reveal our homosexuality must be covered up. But as civilians, we at least have the choice to come out. How can we ask brave Americans to lay down their lives for our country but require them to lie? As members of a queer community, we have talked to many former service members about their experiences in the military. What must it be like to never discuss the person you love with your comrades in arms? Or to live through a mortar attack and worry, not about your own safety, but about the stack of letters that could reveal the existence of your significant other? Can we even imagine? General Pace is certainly entitled to his moral views on homosexuality. But at the end of the day, we cannot forget that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” impacts real people-Americans who have only asked to be able to serve their country. They deserve better.

Alexis Caloza and Anne Gibson, both 3Ls, are Co-Presidents of HLS Lambda.

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