Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Harass

Currently President Obama is attempting to address various issues that have concerned the LGBT community for quite some time. The climate of this country is going in the direction that most have fought long and hard for in regard to LGBT issues and concerns. Presently we see states slowly addressing and passing legislation to include marriage equality for all its citizens and not just those of opposite sex. One of quite a few issues that is on the table is the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Harass armed forces regulation. In 1993, what was deemed as a compromise was instituted in the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Harass regulation.

The armed forces will no longer ask recruits about their sexual activity and/or orientation, will not investigate any serviceman or servicewoman's sexual activity and/or orientation without solid evidence (thus preventing witch-hunts), and self-identified homosexual servicemen and women agree that they will not engage in homosexual sex acts, or do anything that announces that they are a homosexual, i.e. public statements or participate in a same-sex marriage openly.

Various forms of this regulation have been a part of the armed forces regulations since 1778. The armed forces has never had an appetite for gay and lesbian individuals serving next to them. However, as we all know, there have always been gay and lesbian individuals in the armed forces who served honorably in defending this country. Just recently we have seen a lot of movement in support of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Seventy-Seven members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama asking him to repeal this military regulation as soon as possible. It should be noted that since January 20, 2009 there have been more than 250 gay and lesbian service members discharged and more than 12,500 since this regulation was implemented in 1993. Clearly some of the best and brightest soldiers who identified as gay or lesbian have been discharged because of this regulation.

Many in society have inherently thought that to be gay or lesbian was to be deficient and to have someone of such a deficiency go to war to defend this country is in opposition to what we feel military individuals should be about. This policy is not in the best interest of this country at all for it espouses that “the closet” is a good thing. We are asking people to deny who they are and hide their lives from everyone around them or pretend to be someone they are not. When a gay or lesbian person goes to enlist, he or she is not looking at the recruiter ringing their hands saying how wonderful it will be to be with all these members of the same sex in closed quarters. They are enlisting for the same reason that most other citizens are and that is to defend and serve this country. It is about service not sex. Our lives as human beings consist of more than just our sexual acts with others. It does us all a disservice to refer to my attraction to another man as a sexual orientation when in fact it is an emotional orientation.

With Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell we are feeding into the stereotypes and uneducated fears that some service men and women have about a portion of the population they know nothing about. President Truman was dealing with a similar issue (desegregation) when it came to the armed forces. He stated that he was going to repeal the regulation that separated the armed forces because of ethnicity. Several high ranking military men stated that if he went ahead with his promise they would resign. He called their bluff and not one resignation was presented.

During the campaign of President Clinton’s first term he was a breath of fresh air for the LGBT community and made various promises as politicians do when seeking election. One of the key issues to the LGBT community was the ability to discharge a man or woman from the armed services for being labeled or thought to be homosexual. In my research I found that this goes back as far as the American Revolution. The first person to receive a “blue discharge” happened in 1778. You could be discharged or brought up on criminal charges if you it was discovered that you were homosexual. As the times changed so did the rules about military discharge due to homosexuality. The discharge while still enforced was changed in 1947 to be either a general discharge or an undesirable discharge.

As the years progressed the degree of official and unofficial attempts to separate gay people from the armed forces appeared to be directly related to the personnel needs of the armed forces. Therefore, in times of active war gays men and women were basically allowed to serve because we were “needed”. It has become the policy of the military to simply look the other way in an effort to retain anyone suspected or accused of being a homosexual if the person could successfully claim that their behavior was only a singular occurrence. They called this the "queen for a day" rule. How insulting is that???

In 1981, the military issued a new regulation:

Homosexuality is incompatible with military service. The presence in the military environment of persons who engage in homosexual conduct or who, by their statements, demonstrate a propensity to engage in homosexual conduct, seriously impairs the accomplishment of the military mission. The presence of such members adversely affects the ability of the armed forces to maintain discipline, good order, and morale; to foster mutual trust and confidence among service members; to ensure the integrity of the system of rank and command; to facilitate assignment and worldwide deployment of service members who frequently must live and work in close conditions affording minimal privacy; to recruit and retain members of the armed forces; to maintain the public acceptability of military service; and to prevent breaches of security.

The LGBT community wanted this regulation repealed/removed from the books allowing gay and bisexual men and women to serve without the threat of discharge. A promise was made by then candidate Clinton to repeal this regulation. However, he came upon staunch opposition from high ranking military officers as well as those in Congress when he attempted to live up to his promise. Therefore, in 1993 what some would consider as a compromise (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Harass) was established and is still enforced today.

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