Two U.S. defense officials have called for an end to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, taking a step toward allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the military.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates testified before a Senate panel last week, seeking an end to the 16-year-old policy, which allows gay people to serve in the military under the condition that they do not reveal their sexuality.
“No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens,” Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
There was a negative reaction from many Republicans on the committee, especially from Sen. John McCain of Arizona. He asserted that Gates’ testimony was biased, and though the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is not perfect, repealing it would put too much stress on the military.
The possible negative impact on the military is one of the main arguments against ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Mullen acknowledged.
“I just think we need to be mindful of the fact that we’re in two wars and that any kind of change like this be done in a way where it has absolutely minimal impact on those who make such a difference for our country,” Mullen said in a speech.
Sergeant Frederick Lau of the UC Davis ROTC is also concerned not necessarily with the values behind ending the policy but with its effect on the military.
“I don’t necessarily agree that it’s an acceptable lifestyle, but I’m tolerant of it,” Lau said. “The question is how the change is going to be implemented.”
Many gay men and women continue to serve in the military despite “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“I have served with homosexuals since 1968,” Mullen told the committee. “Everybody in the military has, and we understand that.”
The policy prevents some people from serving, however. Approximately 428 people were discharged from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines last year for violating the policy, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. The total is about one-third lower than in 2008, when 619 people were discharged.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” establishes conduct, not orientation, as the grounds for separation from the military. According to the Department of Defense website, a person is discharged if they “engage in or attempt to engage in homosexual acts, state they are homosexual or bisexual or marry or attempt to marry a person of the same biological sex.”
“We don’t discriminate against someone who is gay,” Lau said. “There aren’t witch hunts going on in the military for gay people.”
Though many people in the gay community believe that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should be ended in order to achieve greater equality for gays and lesbians, that is not the extent of the issue.
“I think that the intentions behind this fight to end such a policy come from a good place but with little critique on the military itself,” said Mark Yanez, a senior women and gender studies major at UC Davis and intern for the LGBT Resource Center.
“The U.S. Military is institutionally racist, sexist and homophobic,” Yanez said. “The scary reality is that there are more army recruitment fairs at high schools in low-income urban areas than college fairs. It is scary that about 50 percent of women serving in the U.S. Military have been sexually assaulted. Lifting the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy will not end homophobia in the military.”
Any definitive action is unlikely to happen soon. Adm. Mullen and Gates said there will be a Pentagon review, which could last up to a year, to study how best to implement the change.
SARAH HANSEL can be reached at email@example.com.