According to statistics released by the Pentagon, the number of gay soldiers discharged from the U.S. Army has dropped dramatically in the past five years, from over 1,200 in 2001 to just over 600 in 2006. While this number may appear to indicate that the army is becoming increasingly progressive in accepting openly gay soldiers, it is more likely that these statistics should be attributed to military leaders failing to follow the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
If this is the case, then military leaders should be held accountable for not adhering to government policy, and the shortcomings of the policy itself should be addressed. Since the “DADT” policy was put in place in 1993, the rule has functioned as a compromise that leaves neither side satisfied, whether they are for or against gays in the military. To understand the flaws of the “DADT” policy, one must approach the document from a holistic view in order to grasp how the procedure was formed, what it includes and how the U.S. military has followed through on carrying out the rule over the years.
The roots of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” originated in 1993, President Bill Clinton’s first year in the Oval Office. He carried out some of the boldest moves of his presidency during his initial year in office, including signing the North American Free Trade Agreement, and firmly stating that gay men and women should be able to serve openly in the military.
However, Clinton’s popularity then plummeted. Looking back at Clinton’s soaring public support in the mid-to-late 1990s may fog the memory because even though Clinton left office with a higher approval rating than John F. Kennedy, in early 1993 his popularity was more akin to George W. Bush’s low public-approval ratings.
As a result, Clinton sought a compromise. While he was successful in ending a comprehensive ban on gays in the military, gay soldiers who refused to bottle up their sexuality and closet themselves were completely out of luck. Toward the end of his presidency, Clinton himself expressed his disappointment with the “DADT” policy and stated his intentions to change it in a 1999 interview with CBS News.
“[W]hat I’d like to do is to focus on trying to make the policy that we announced back in ’93 work the way it was intended to because it’s out of whack, and I don’t think any serious person could say it’s not,” Clinton said.
Nevertheless, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has gone un-amended by both the Clinton and Bush administrations in the nine years following that comment.
The policy itself is straightforward, as it allows no breathing room for those in the military who are openly gay. Basically, if you say you’re gay, you will be discharged. Although it is understandable that sexuality should be downplayed in a working environment, the procedure goes far beyond regulating sexuality in the workplace.
Not only must gays closet their sexuality while on duty, but they cannot express their sexuality publicly while serving in the U.S. Army. Such was the case last year when Navy Petty Officer, Second Class, Stephen Benjamin was discharged for using a military computer to send messages to his roommate in order to discuss a date he had been on.
Although the argument could be made that Benjamin was wrong for using a government computer for personal messages, he was not in the line of fire and a fair distance away from any battlefield.
Benjamin’s example also serves to show that military leaders have virtually abandoned the policy. Benjamin addressed this matter in an interview with the Associated Press.
“I’d always been out since the day I started working there. … We had conversations about being gay in the military and what it was like. There were no issues with unit cohesion,” Benjamin said.
Luckily, with the presidential election coming up, there is the possibility for change. All of the major Democrats seeking their party’s nomination, including Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama, support throwing out the policy and letting gays serve openly in the military. Alternatively, while most Republican presidential contenders favor keeping the policy in place, Congressman Ron Paul has favored repealing the rule.
Although it is possible that once elected, the new president will follow Clinton’s example and back away from allowing openly gay men and women in the military, the social climate has changed considerably since the 1990s. Same-sex marriages or civil unions are legal in many states and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” is among Bravo TV’s most popular programs.
Regardless of who wins the 2008 election, it is necessary for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to be changed, if not completely overhauled. After all, supplying a group of repressed homosexuals with the best weaponry money can buy and then giving them a reason to be disgruntled is a far cry from establishing peace in the Middle East.