America’s military has been off limits to homosexuals for years. As part of the famed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy highlighted in American policy throughout the years and proposed by Bill Clinton and Colin Powell, gays have been able to serve as long as they do not disclose their sexual orientation. The chronology of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell shows the onslaught of criticism the program faced both when it was passed and in the immediate years after.
The question, however, remains: Why shouldn’t gays be able to serve in the military? Other minorities fought for years to be able to serve alongside their fellow Americans. Their victory led to the integration of the military. Yet homosexual service in the military has been frowned upon since the inception of the United States military. The dismissal of homosexual soldiers is hurting our military. The SLDN notes that “during every major military mobilization, gay discharges have dropped.” Clearly, the military needs our homosexual soldiers. If not, why aren’t they being dismissed at the same rate during conflict periods?
The SLDN, along with other legal and gay rights organizations, is ramping up their fight for the repeal of the policy. This time, Congress isn’t ignoring their pleas for equality. Last session’s bill H.R. 1059 [commonly referred to as the Military Readiness Act of 2005], sponsored by Representative Martin T. Meehan, calls for replacement of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy with “a policy of nondiscrimination in the military on the basis of sexual orientation.” Meehan, along with 122 other cosponsors, supported the bill as it worked its way through the 109th Congress. Unfortunately, the bill wasn’t passed by the end of the session.
Representative Gary Ackermann (D-NY) made big news Wednesday afternoon during a Congressional session with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Earlier in the month, the Secretary had expressed concerns about not having enough translators in Iraq. Ackerman fired back, telling Rice that she “might find some of those competent people among those who were recently unemployed over the past several years,” referring to the gays that had been discharged from military service in recent years. A December 2006 poll has helped to give more backing to supporters of the Meehan policy. The Zogby poll, available online as a PDF here, shows that 73% of those polled in the military say they are personally comfortable in the presence of gays and lesbians. Only 20% said they were uncomfortable. Meehan responded to the survey with strong words, claiming
“These new data prove that thousands of gay and lesbian service members are already deployed overseas and are integrated, important members of their units. It is long past time to strike down ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and create a new policy that allows gays and lesbians to serve openly.”
A Boston Globe poll from May 2005 shows that 79% of American civilians don’t mind gays serving in the military. In a New York Times editorial, General John Shalikashvili reversed his course
I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces. Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job.
Op Ed: Second Thoughts on Gays in the Military
Shalikashvili imagines a day when “gay men and lesbians will no longer have to conceal who they are and the military will no longer need to sacrifice those whose service it cannot afford to lose.” America is ready, and the wheels have just begun turning.
Representative Ackerman helped to fuel the debate once again during hearings earlier in the week. His tongue-in-cheek rant has since become famous on the internet,
“For some reason, the military seems more afraid of gay people than they are against terrorists, but they’re very brave with the terrorists. … If the terrorists ever got a hold of this information, they’d get a platoon of lesbians to chase us out of Baghdad.”
The Frontlines: Ackerman’s Lesbian Platoon
The military must accept gays and lesbians, and the time for the integration is now. Marty Meehan’s “Dear Colleague” letter has begun circulating around Congress and he plans to introduce a bill overturning the old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy as soon as possible. Meehan’s bill is crucial to the civil rights of homosexuals in this country and to the status of the military in the future.
If you’d like to take action, SLDN and the Michael D. Palm Center have more information.
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