Activism, Protests & Rights

With Repeal Of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ An Era Ends

Photo, left, courtesy of fernexpress.

The law that for almost 18 years has banned openly gay Americans from serving in the armed forces will be officially repealed Tuesday, nine months after Congress voted to end the Clinton-era edict.

President Obama signed the repeal into law last December, but its provisions required time for the Pentagon to prepare for the policy change, and for top military officials to “certify” the law’s end.

Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, signed off on the change in July, and set Tuesday as the end of the law that has long been known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” or DADT.

Repeal means that for the first time in America’s military history, service members will be allowed to publicly reveal their sexual orientation without fear of reprisal.

Though a national Gallup poll taken after Congress repealed DADT showed that 67 percent of those surveyed supported repeal, resistance to the change still exists, on Capitol Hill and beyond.

Not Everyone Supports Repeal

Though polls show that a majority of Americans support ending the controversial gays-in-the-military policy, a number of Republican presidential hopefuls have advocated keeping DADT in place. When the issue came up in a June 13 primary debate in Manchester, N.H., former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said he believed the policy should have been kept in place “until conflict was over.” (In 1994, Romney wrote a letter advocating that gays serve “openly and honestly” in the military.) Other candidates also weighed in during one exchange at the June debate:

Q: Now gays are allowed to serve openly in the military; would you leave that policy in place or would you try to change it back to “don’t ask, don’t tell”?

MICHELE BACHMANN: I would keep the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

HERMAN CAIN: Now that they have changed it, I wouldn’t create a distraction trying to turn it over as president.

RON PAUL: I would not work to overthrow it. We have to remember, rights don’t come in groups. We shouldn’t have gay rights. Rights come as individuals. If we have this major debate going on, it would be behavior that would count, not the person who belongs to which group.

RICK SANTORUM: The job of the United States military is to protect and defend the people of this country. It is not for social experimentation. It should be repealed. And the commanders should have a system of discipline in place, as Ron Paul said, that punishes — that punishes bad behavior.

Rep. Buck McKeon, the California Republican who leads the House Armed Services Committee, and committee member Rep. Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican, sent a letter to the White House last week seeking to delay the repeal. They argued that the committee has not been adequately briefed about the new policy.

Pentagon press secretary George Little on Monday had a different message, however.

“No one should be left with the impression that we are unprepared. We are prepared for repeal,” Little said. “The force is well aware that this is coming. They’ve had the training. It’s been in the press for months. The September 20th day is not a mystery.”

We spoke with two men who have been immersed in efforts to repeal the controversial measure.

Aaron Belkin is a political science professor who is director of the 5-year-old Palm Center at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law. He helped lead research and analysis of gay Americans in the military and of the effect of DADT on military capabilities.

His e-book, How We Won: Progressive Lessons from the Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, published Tuesday, details the Center’s research, how it communicated with the military “from the inside,” and its deliberative media strategy. Belkin believes it was an accumulation of evidence that finally brought the policy down.

Air Force 1st Lt. Josh Seefried is now assigned to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey and co-founded OutServe, a Facebook-based online social media network for gay Americans actively serving in the military.

Seefried, who until Tuesday publicly used the pseudonym J.D. Smith, has edited a collection of first-person essays by gay service members, Our Time: Breaking the Silence of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Although the policy once made him feel “hopeless,” Seefried now sees “substantial progress” in how the military’s attitude toward gay service members has already changed. 

Though there are repeal celebrations planned across the nation, Belkin says his own plans are mundane.

“I’m going to walk my dog, take a dance class and see if any of my friends want to have dinner,” he says. “Just like this day is going to be a nonevent for the military, as we’ve been saying all along, it’s going to be a nonevent for me.”

“Emotionally and politically it’s a big change for everybody. But on the ground, the way we live our lives, we’re all just going to move on,” he said.

For excerpts from the interview, please visit the NPR site for the original posting written by LIZ HALLORAN

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