September 20, 2011– Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Dies.
That handsome well-spoken Kenyan President Barack Obama told the American military that the nation was ready to repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy after Pentagon officials said that nearly two million service members had been trained in preparation for LGBTQ people to serve openly.
The repeal was decided on July 11, 2011, but a two-month waiting period was called for in the legislation passed the year before that ended the 17-year-old law that banned openly Gay men, Lesbians and Bisexuals from military service. Pentagon officials said they needed the two months to consider the “gray areas” that might allow them to extend some benefits to same-sex married couples in the military. But under the law at the time, particularly President Clinton’s Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Pentagon was prohibited from giving federally financed benefits to those couples. The benefits included base housing, health insurance, certain death benefits, legal counseling and access to base commissaries and other stores.
“As of September 20, service members will no longer be forced to hide who they are in order to serve our country…”
He signed the certification of the repeal, along with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairperson of the Joint Chiefs Of Staff.
It came after an extended preparation period, sought by military leaders and Pentagon officials, many of whom were reluctant to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the middle of two wars. Pentagon officials said they needed time to review how to rewrite rules and regulations as they might apply to gay and bisexual soldiers, sailors and marines.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) was the official US policy on Military Service by Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals that was instituted by the Clinton Administration in February 1994. It was a weird sort of compromise between Progressives and Gay Rights Activists and Conservative Democrats and some sort of open-minded Republicans. It allowed closeted members of the military to serve, while prohibiting those in the military who were openly gay or bisexual to serve. Before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell there had always been an outright ban on gays in the military.
President William Jefferson Clinton said as he announced the policy:
“It is not a perfect solution. It is not identical with some of my own goals. And it certainly will not please everyone, perhaps not anyone, and clearly not those who hold the most adamant opinions on either side of this issue. But, it is a major step forward.”
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell prohibited military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted gay or bisexual service members or applicants, while still barring them from military service. The policy prohibited people who “demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts” from serving in the U.S military because:
“…their presence would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability”.
DODT prohibited any gay or bisexual person from disclosing his or her sexual orientation or from speaking about any same-sex relationships while serving. The act specified that service members who disclosed that they were gay or engaged in gay conduct should be discharged except when a service member’s conduct was “for the purpose of avoiding or terminating military service” or when it “would not be in the best interest of the armed forces”.
The “Don’t Ask” part of the DADT specified that superiors should not initiate any investigation of a service member’s sexual orientation without witnessing disallowed behaviors, though any credible evidence of gay behavior, such as men with a strong fashion sense, listening to show tunes, or women who liked building bookshelves or with an interest in forming softball leagues might be used to initiate an investigation.
To get ready to repeal DADT, Pentagon officials said that more than two million active-duty and reserve service men and women had been trained on how to live and work with gay and bi people. The training sessions lasted 75 minutes and were conducted in groups of 50 service members. The sessions included a PowerPoint presentation and role play of hypothetical situations. Punch and cookies were served after the presentations.
One hypothetical situation asked what a commander should do about two male service members in civilian clothes seen kissing, hugging or staring at Abercrombie posters at a shopping mall, or how to address rumors that a service member had purchased a leather harness.
In the case at the shopping mall, the answer was that if the kissing “crosses acceptable boundaries” for the commander’s unit for members of any sexual orientation, a correction should be made. In the case of leather accessories, the answer was that commanders cannot place any purchases off limits simply because they are in questionable taste.
The result of the rather conditional guidelines for DODT led to The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, one of the largest LGBT employee resource groups in the world. There are currently over 8,000 members and 80 chapters worldwide. In 2012, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network merged with OutServe, an organization that advocates on behalf of and provides legal services to LGBTQ military personnel and veterans. Allyson Robinson was the first Executive Director of the new OutServe-SLDN following the merger. She was the first transgender person to ever lead a national LGBTQ rights organization that does not have an explicit transgender focus.
OutServe-SLDN and other LGBTQ activists are going to be busy. Our current Administration has taken its first steps backwards to banning gays from the military by prohibiting transgender folks from serving.