- May 8, 2004
- Reaction score
- Podunk, WI
Homo Groups Fight 'Don't Ask Don't Tell'
International Herald Tribune | September 15, 2006
Three young men who tried to enlist at a U.S. Army recruiting station here appeared to be first-rate military material.
Two were college students, and the other was a college graduate. They had no criminal records. They were physically fit and eager to serve at a time when wars on two fronts have put a strain on U.S. troops and the need for qualified recruits is great.
But the recruiter was forced to turn them away, for one reason: They are gay and unwilling to conceal it.
"Don't judge me because of my sexuality," said one of the three, Justin Hager, 20, a self-described Republican from a military family who has "a driving desire to join" the armed forces. "Judge me because of my character and drive."
As the Pentagon's search for recruits grows more urgent, gay rights groups are making the biggest push in nearly a decade to win repeal of a compromise policy, encoded in a 1993 law and dubbed "don't ask, don't tell," that bars openly gay people from serving in the military. The policy, grounded in a belief that open homosexuality is damaging to unit morale and cohesion, stipulates that gay men and lesbians must serve in silence and refrain from homosexual activity, and that recruiters and commanders may not ask them about their sexual orientation in the absence of compelling evidence that homosexual acts have occurred.
The push for repeal follows years of legal setbacks, as well as discord among gay rights groups about how, or even whether, to address the issue. Now, rather than rely on the courts, advocates are focusing on drumming up support in towns across the country, spotlighting the personal stories of gay former service members and pushing a Democratic bill in the House that would do away with the policy.
In August the gay rights group Soulforce opened a national campaign by recruiting openly gay people, like the three young men in Madison, who would have enlisted in the military if not for "don't ask, don't tell."
As part of that campaign, two young people who were rejected as applicants on Tuesday at a recruitment center in Chicago returned there on Wednesday and engaged in a sit-in. They were arrested but later released without charges.
The move to change the policy faces stiff resistance from the Pentagon and Republicans in Congress, who, in a time of war during a tough election year, have no longing for another contentious debate about gay troops. The House bill, introduced last year by Representative Martin Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat, has picked up 119 supporters, but only five of them Republicans.
"In the near term, it has zero chance," said Daniel Goure, a vice president at the centrist Lexington Institute. "It's hard to see how anyone would want to give potential opponents any ammunition to knock them off."
A 2004 report by the Urban Institute concluded that at least 60,000 gay people were serving in the armed forces, including the Reserves and the National Guard. But since 1993, at least 11,000 members have been discharged for being openly gay, among them 800 in highly crucial jobs, according to the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm.
For all of that, gay rights groups, gay veterans and some analysts say much has changed since the policy was adopted. A Gallup poll in 2004 found that 63 percent of respondents favored allowing gay troops to serve openly; a similar one, by the Pew Research Center this year, put the number at 60 percent; those majorities did not exist in 1993. Young people in particular now have more tolerant views about homosexuality.
In addition, 24 foreign armies, most notably those of Britain and Israel, have integrated openly gay people into their ranks with little impact on effectiveness and recruitment. In Britain, where the military was initially forced to accept gay troops by the European Court of Human Rights, gay partners are now afforded full benefits, and the Royal Navy has called on a gay rights group to help recruit gay sailors.
The new debate on "don't ask, don't tell" also coincides with multiple deployments that are being required of many U.S. troops by a military that has lowered its standards to allow more high school dropouts and some convicted criminals to enlist.
Lieutenant General Daniel Christman, retired, former superintendent at West Point and onetime assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said both the British experience and the shifts in attitudes at home would cause the U.S. armed forces to change, though slowly.
"It is clear that national attitudes toward this issue have evolved considerably in the last decade," said Christman, now a senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "This has been led by a new generation of service members who take a more relaxed and tolerant view toward homosexuality. This does not mean that we will move to a British-like policy of 'don't ask, don't misbehave' any time soon. But I think it is inevitable that the policy will eventually change along the lines of what the British military presently practices."
On the other side of the divide, Elaine Donnelly, president of the conservative Center for Military Readiness, said permitting gay men and lesbians to serve openly would prompt recruitment rates to drop and disrupt unit cohesion, a linchpin in the decision to allow gay troops to serve only in silence.
"People in the military live in conditions of little or no privacy," said Donnelly, who advocates a full ban on gay troops. "In conditions of forced intimacy, people should not have to expose themselves to other persons who are sexually attracted to them."