Back in July 2008, the House Armed Service Committee’s Subcommittee on Personnel held a hearing to debate the federal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual service members. That hearing saw a dramatic shift from 15 years ago when the Clinton Administration first fought for equality in the U.S. armed services.
Eric Alva, a gay man who was also the first soldier wounded in Iraq, spoke at the hearing, and he made clear that fears around “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are unjustified; that they’re not about disrupting the military’s fighing capability nor about unit cohesion.
Those who support “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” claim that they do so in the interest of unit cohesion. Well, as a former Marine, I can tell you what it takes to build unit cohesion: trust. It takes trust in your fellow unit members to have your back and do their job. And I can also tell you that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” does nothing but undercut that trust, and with it our nation’s security. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” imposes secrecy and undermines unit cohesion, ousting gays and lesbians at the expense of the military readiness of the United States. Allowing gay, lesbian and bisexual service members to serve openly will only improve unit cohesion and in turn our military.
Most who spoke at the hearing were in favor of repealing the ban, including Republican Congressman Christopher Shays (R-CT), who is a co-sponser of legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the House.
When I look at the graves in Arlington Cemetery, I know that some of those soldiers must have been gay. That is why we are here today … that is why we are having this hearing.
Back in November 2007, 28 retired generals and admirals released a letter urging Congress to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” These military leaders cite evidence that 65,000 gay men and lesbians serve in the American armed forces and there are more than 1 million gay veterans. As the letter says, “They have served our nation honorably.”
Even Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was adopted, now argues for its repeal. He’s quoted in the New York Times as saying that the current generation of Americans entering the armed serves have proved to him “that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers.”
I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces. 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.
In addition, there’s also the evidence from the 26 countries that participate militarily in NATO, of which more than 20 permit openly lesbian, gay or bisexuals to serve.
It’s no surprise therefore that change finally seems to be coming. An Obama spokesman, Robert Gibbs, made it clear on change.gov that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will get repealed under the Obama administration.
And because things have changed in the United States, you won’t see the military fighting the change like you did 15 years ago. Not when 64 percent of Americans are in favor of overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Not after the high-profile discharges of gay Arabic linguists and other troops whose military jobs were deemed essential in Iraq, Afghanistan and the “war on terror.”
Not when it’s finally sinking in that equality matters, and that when the United States honors its soldiers, it needs to honor all of them, no matter their sexual orientation.
It may take time. After all, this is a big change for the military, and they need to be involved in the change process. It may take a year, maybe two, but change is definitely in the air these days, and that bodes well for equality in the U.S. armed forces.