“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has robbed soliders of their freedom for too long.
During an episode of Saturday Night Live that originally aired Feb. 6, comedian Kristen Wiig impersonated a concerned Greta Van Susteren, a Fox News journalist, posing the question, “Should homosexuals be allowed to prance around our military like it’s Cirque du Soleil?”
This is obviously a joke, but humorless is the fact that it is a sincere concern for some.
Soldiers in the U.S. military voluntarily risk their lives to defend our nation, its values and its citizens. To force a gay officer to switch pronouns when talking about a significant other so as not to be “found out” is hardly a way to show our gratitude.
Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called to repeal the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The policy, introduced as a compromise during the Clinton administration in 1993, allows gays and lesbians to serve in the military as long as they keep it a secret. Violations of the policy led to being discharged from the military, regardless of whether or not a third party was involved in revealing one’s sexual orientation. According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, the policy has led to more than 13,500 discharges since it was put into effect.
At Temple, ROTC students who commit to serving as officers sign a contract entering them into the U.S. military, and those students fall under the same regulations as regular military, said Maj. James Castelli, a professor of military science.
Therefore, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” applies to college students involved in ROTC. Yet Castelli said he doesn’t believe there has ever been a case of discharge from ROTC at Temple under the policy.
President Obama pledged to put an end to the policy during this year’s State of the Union address. The plan still faces opposition in Congress, in the military and among citizens.
Reasoning against the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is weak. Sen. John McCain said in a Feb. 2 statement that the policy is “imperfect, but effective” and made reference to asking too much of the military during such trying times. Other arguments are based around unit cohesion, and insist allowing openly gay military officers would be disruptive and unsettling to the force.
“Those arguments are trying to take advantage of stereotypes about homosexuality that exist among some segments of the population,” said Dr. Kevin Arceneaux, an associate professor of political science at Temple who specializes in the study of political behavior. “Those are unfounded concerns about there being unwanted sexual advances that would disrupt morale and camaraderie in the military.”
If gays and lesbians are allowed to be open about their sexual orientations, they will not tap dance around the barracks singing show tunes and rubbing up against other soldiers. Realistically, with a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” soldiers may be unafraid to show fellow troops pictures of their partners, or confide in colleagues without hesitation how difficult it is to be away from their significant others.
“It would be a really easy policy change to make,” Arceneaux said. “Gays are already allowed to sign up for the military as long as they’re not public about it. All that is being changed is a soldier can say, ‘I’m gay’ and not be kicked out.”
Some might argue that military policy decisions should be left for people in the military to decide, that outsiders don’t know enough about the military to have an opinion about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” They might say outsiders don’t have to share bunks or showers with homosexuals.
You don’t need military training to see that the policy deprives respected military personnel of the most basic of civil rights.
According to the University of California, Los Angeles’ Williams Institute, 66,000 gays, lesbians and bisexuals currently serve in the U.S. military. That’s 66,000 secrets that serve no purpose other than to settle the stomachs of the intolerant and reinforce the foundationless notion that gays and lesbians have something shameful to hide.
Leah Mafrica can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.