Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Government-sanctioned discrimination


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While flying my helicopter over the Iraqi desert four years ago, I thought a lot about the state of our military and about the many decisions our government had made in recent years. One policy that I found particularly frustrating is Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT), which prohibits gays and lesbians who openly declare their sexual orientation from serving in the military. With three closeted gay soldiers in my Company and several more in my Battalion, I wondered why our government continued to condone a policy of discrimination. Four years later I am still left wondering.

Some claim that allowing gays to serve openly in the military would hurt military readiness. Reminiscent of an argument we heard 60 years ago that banning racial segregation in the military would impact readiness, this new claim has no statistical support. In fact, studies on gays in the military in Australia, Great Britain, Israel and Canada have shown integration to be a non-event. Here is the plain and simple truth: when soldiers are in the middle of a war zone, they don’t care whether the guy or girl next to them is gay or straight. They care only about whether the other soldier is good at his or her job.

Additionally, more and more top generals are arguing to repeal DADT. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili, one of the initial proponents of the policy, has reversed course in the last 18 months and has stated that it is one of the policies he is most ashamed about.

Other senior officers have also come to acknowledge that DADT is bad policy. This is because DADT actually hurts readiness. The Pentagon has discharged over 12,500 service members since the law was implemented in 1994. Even more appalling, the Pentagon has discharged nearly 800 mission critical troops because of their sexual orientation, including Arabic linguists, medics, pilots and intelligence analysts. At a time when military recruiters are straining to attract new forces, does it make sense to turn away talented individuals who are willing to serve?

As a soldier who served his country in Iraq and spent nine years in the military, I am frustrated that our lawmakers still allow DADT to discriminate against men and women in uniform. here is no other law in the United States that mandates an employer to fire someone for being gay. In fact, no other modern democracy has such a policy (but there are many authoritarian states that do, including Iran). Why do we continue to tolerate this discriminatory law?

There are an estimated 65,000 gay Americans currently serving in the military and over one million gay veterans in the United States. We need to do more to honor their service. It’s time for us to respect them enough as human beings to give them equal protection under the law. Call your Congressional Representative and ask for an end to this discriminatory policy.

Joe Lopez-Gallego is a former U.S. Army Captain and a Member of HLS Lambda

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