It’s Time to End the Silence
Oh, so you’re gay? You can’t sit with us. Also, you’re unfit to defend our country.
In 1993, President Clinton implemented the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which prohibits gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals from openly disclosing their sexuality while serving in the military. Furthermore, those who reveal their homosexually, whether verbally or through engaging in homosexual acts, are discharged.
But in recent months, President Obama’s campaign to repeal the policy has finally begun to take motion. Support was drawn from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both of whom agreed in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 2, that ending this policy “would be the right thing to do.”
Although “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was implemented as a response to violence within the military (U.S. Navy Officer Allen R. Schindler was brutally murdered in 1992 after his sexual orientation was revealed), it was mainly a way to gloss over the bigger issue of discrimination. The policy, rather than working to correct the mindset of those who are prejudiced toward gays, just ignores the fact that gays exist at all, forcing them to hide their sexuality.
Two major questions still remain, though, that have delayed further progress with this long overdue repeal.
The first concern is the timing of repealing such a controversial policy and the worry that hastily made decisions on this decade-old policy might make a mess. But if we look at other countries in the past – Britain, Canada, Israel – we can see that all of these militaries successfully altered their policies almost immediately after open gay service was allowed by politicians. By keeping this situation in a state of limbo, President Obama not only expresses his own uncertainty on the topic but also causes the general public to remain uncertain.
Practical issues, such as banning public displays of affection on military grounds and privacy concerns, such as lockers rooms and showers, are being closely debated in order to avoid discomfort. But why is this one of the main problems at hand?
Back in 1983 when Israel changed its policies and stated that “homosexuals would not be limited in their positions or discharged from service solely because of their sexual orientation,” they adopted policies that accommodated the few who did not feel comfortable — both homosexual and heterosexual. Rather than discriminating against those who supposedly are the cause of any conflict, the Israeli military compromised. Compare that to what happened to the 12,500 homosexual or bisexual soldiers who have been discharged (read: discriminated against) by the U.S. military after being found out.
The other and probably more significant concern is how supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will react. In 2008, a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 75 percent of Americans believe that openly gay people should be allowed to serve in the military. One year later, CNN did another poll that showed a dramatic drop to 52 percent of Americans supporting the right for homosexual individuals to serve in the military.
So, what’s with the big drop? One of the biggest concerns of this repeal is the timing. As Mullen put it, “In the middle of two wars and in the middle of this giant security threat, why would we want to get into this debate?” Although this is a valid concern, it is also the type of thinking that prevented social progress in the past. Why are we putting civil rights — especially those of qualified military candidates fighting for our own country — on the back burner?
So, when is the right time for this change to occur? Are we waiting for some type of flashing green light to tell us when to go? Or are we just going to take care of more pressing issues before we can make room for something as measly as our own civil rights?
Today, it’s highly unlikely that anyone would say that an African-American shouldn’t be able to serve in our military. Rewind 62 years and it was said. President Truman desegregated the Armed Forces in 1948 under a population that felt the same sentiments toward blacks as some Americans do toward homosexuals. If they, a generation that supposedly was more prejudiced than we view ourselves today, can get over it and adapt, so can we.
There will never be a perfect time for this. There are always going to be those who disagree with something that will benefit the greater good. But by changing the standard of treatment toward homosexual and bisexual members of the military, President Obama can lay the foundation for a more equal military and, eventually, a more equal society. It won’t be easy and, like any other decision Obama will make, it will be scrutinized. But there is no doubt that the opposition that we face now will pay off in the future.
General John Shalikashvili, former Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, confidently stated in the St. Petersberg Times: “Israel took exactly the opposite approach [from the US] … 14 years later, Israelis are convinced they made the right decision.”
If not now, when?
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