The Need To Repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

On the heels of Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s triumphant Aug. 4 decision to overturn Proposition 8 comes a setback in the fight for gay rights. Senate Republicans shot down the Democrats’ attempts to begin the debate on a defense authorization bill that would include repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) military policy.

In 1992, openly gay Petty Officer Allen R. Schindler, Jr. was brutally stomped to death by a shipmate. In 1993, President Bill Clinton used this case to make an argument for the federal implementation of what has come to be known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Under Ronald Reagan’s “Defense Directive,” homosexuality was considered a condition that made people unfit to serve in the military and was grounds for discharge. Clinton’s policy was designed to give gay, lesbian and bisexual people the opportunity to serve their country under the condition that they keep their sexuality to themselves. However, a failure to keep silent results in discharge just as it always had.

Now Democrats are seeing the shortcomings and pitfalls of Clinton’s policy, arguing that the requirement for silence is fundamentally discriminatory, keeping potential gay and lesbian recruits from enlisting. On the other side of the spectrum, Republicans in the Senate strongly oppose the repeal on the grounds that the military needs to remain focused on the wars at hand without the distraction of a social upheaval. They also point to the discomfort that heterosexual troops would feel living and bathing in close quarters with gays. It has been said by those who oppose the repeal that the issue is not about “liking” gay people, it is about doing what’s best for the armed forces.

We strongly disagree. Though DADT is inherently homophobic, part of its initial aim was to give rights to the gay community and to protect them from harm. However, the argument against the repeal does not have the best interests of gay soldiers in mind at all. The opposition hinges on the socially conservative status quo of the military and the comfort of straight troops. Instead of protecting gay soldiers from hate crimes and discrimination, DADT simply protects the homophobic tendencies and easily-offended sensibilities of straight men.

The policy is an example of de jure, institutionalized hate disguised as a concerned helping hand. Similar to segregation laws that prevented soldiers of color to serve alongside white men and the debate over women in the military, the pro-DADT argument can be boiled down to misconceptions and prejudice. Gay men and women are not sexual predators or perverts and homosexuals do not have a natural drive to make heterosexual people uncomfortable.

Perhaps instead of protecting gays in the military and upholding heterosexual comfort with enforced silence, the military should strive for true equality. DADT perpetuates homophobia in the military by forcing people to hide their identity, in some way acknowledging that there is a part of them that isn’t completely appropriate for service. Gays in the military are cast as inferior beings who require extra protection. The threat of homophobic hate crimes is dealt with by keeping secrets rather than working to change violent behavior.

But we know that hoping for a complete turnaround in the social sphere of the military and conservative America is unrealistic. To keep the safety of all of our troops in mind, gay or straight,  means having to acknowledge that change certainly doesn’t come overnight. It’s unfortunately too possible that the repeal of DADT would indeed put a target on our gay troops, thus hindering efficiency and morale — but the fault here lies wholly with those who let differences act as a barrier. The end of DADT may even give leaders reason to segregate out-and-proud men and women from the rest of the unit to serve in more menial ways. Military history is rife with racial and gender discrimination — in the past, the United States military has segregated African American troops away from white troops and put them on supportive duties. Even to this day, women in the U.S. military cannot serve in active combative roles.

Discrimination in the armed forces is counter-productive and it should be confronted rather than hidden. Steps must be made to eradicate hate, but those steps will not be easy or painless. The fight for equality is slow (for instance, sexual acts between members of the same sex wasn’t even federally “legal” until 2003), but it must start somewhere. Repealing DADT is a huge but very important hurdle that must be confronted, sooner rather than later.

What can we do as UCI students? Be informed, get involved in activism if you’re so called, but most importantly, confront the struggle. LGBTQ rights are not to be swept under the rug and ignored, they are to be acknowledged. So in honor of our LGBTQ friends, family, neighbors and fellow students, regard the issue with understanding rather than deep-rooted misconceptions. The fight for equality is not only a legal issue — it’s a communal, interpersonal striving for change.

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