The Long Road Toward Ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Illustration for article titled The Long Road Toward Ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell

"For me, Don't Ask, Don't Tell isn't just an equality issue. It is also a national-security issue." In the aftermath of this weekend's National Equality March, the media examines the role of Don't Ask Don't Tell as a policy.


Meghan McCain reserves the strongest words for Obama, arguing:

This is the point we should be emphasizing for those who refuse to see Don't Ask Don't Tell opposition as a human-rights campaign. We need to bring the issue back to the security of our country both overseas and at home. Every soldier in our armed forces is serving his or her country in the most admirable way an American can, and we should be able to respect them, by not asking them to hide their sexual orientation.

But the second part of her argument is a bit questionable (emphasis added):

Now, I cannot speak for my brothers, but I know many men and women who serve in the military. Let's give them more credit. Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, I suspect it could be said that there is no homophobia in foxholes either. I find it hard to imagine that when a soldier is in a Humvee fighting terrorist insurgents, that the thing on his mind is who his fellow soldier chooses to sleep with when he's off duty.

I get her point, but again...aren't religious assumptions partly responsible for this mess?

Still McCain's article is part of the clearer headed contingent. With the growing strain on the ground and the repeated calls to add thousands more troops to the effort overseas, it seems absolutely foolish to persecute enlisted soliders based on their sexuality. Yet, that is exactly the practice being defended. According to CBS News:

Ending "Don't ask, don't tell" is opposed in Congress, with several members (including Republican Senator Lindsay Graham) saying the military needs to be consulted before ending the policy.


The military has been consulted - they said they need more troops. What's the issue here?

Unfortunately, the issue is either the biased policy or entrenched members of the service working to uphold this bias:

Ainsley Kling, 26, just completed 7 1/2 years with the Coast Guard; after her commitment was up, she left voluntarily with the rank of petty officer, second class. She wished Obama had gone further and ordered a halt to all ongoing investigations under "don't ask, don't tell."

Kling, who is lesbian, said harassment based on sexual orientation persists, recalling a Coast Guardsman who wrote "fag" on someone else's bicycle, though neither party was believed to be homosexual.

When she wanted to write up the violation, her supervisor urged her not to do so, saying that he "knew things about me he shouldn't know." She did not file the report.


Lt. Dan Choi (pictured above in a tee-shirt that says "Don't Hide") is rapidly becoming the face of the military's GLBTQ members.

A West Point graduate and Iraq war veteran, Choi is facing discharge under the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy for revealing in March that he is gay.

He appeared later at a rally in his Army uniform, a piece of black tape over his mouth.

"Many of us have been discharged from the service because we told the truth," he said.


In addition to the warring over Don't Ask, Don't Tell, gay rights activists also pushed hard for a repeal to the Defense of Marriage Act.

The president extended some benefits to the spouses of gay federal employees in June while voicing support for a House bill that grants them other rights. The State Department now allows married gay and lesbian couples to obtain passports with their married names. And the Census Bureau has agreed to release data on same-sex marriages.

But Obama is also clearly mindful of the politics of the combustible issue. Opposition remains strong in much of the country to extending rights to gays, especially where marriage is concerned.

House Democrats introduced a bill last month that would repeal the marriage act, but polls consistently show that opponents of legalizing same-sex marriage outnumber supporters. Twenty-nine states have banned same-sex marriage.


With a full plate of contentious domestic issues to solve, activists are beginning to wonder if Obama will actually make time for these issues, or allow his commitment to equal rights to waver in the face of pressure. However, Obama continues to say he fully supports civil rights:

He expressed strong support for the HRC agenda of ending discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people but stopped short of laying out a detailed plan for how to get there.

"My expectation is that when you look back on these years you will look back and see a time when we put a stop against discrimination ... whether in the office or the battlefield," Obama said.


Don't Ask, Don't Tell Makes America Unsafe [The Daily Beast]
Report: U.S. general calls for more troops in Afghanistan [CNN]
Obama renews pledge to gays to end 'don't ask, don't tell'[LA Times]
Gay rights marchers in DC: 'We won't back down' [Associated Press]
As Pressure Grows, Obama Addresses Gay Rights Group [Washington Post]
Obama again pledges to change policy on gays [AP]



I know many men and women in the armed services. They have vastly differing political and religious beliefs. They all believe that all who are willing and able to serve should be allowed.

Also, the "no atheists in foxholes" lines is very old, and isn't really about religious belief so much as unity, emotion and sense of purpose. I completely understand when taken literally it seems inapt here, but I've heard that idiom my whole life and I take it to mean just that in extreme situations, we're all human.