Well, Don't Ask Don't Tell is over. Y'all can come out now.
After the legislature voted in December to end the 17-year-old policy of banning gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, the repeal officially went into effect at midnight this morning. The White House tweeted about it at 12:01 a.m., but the official statement appeared in a memorandum signed by Army Sergeant Major Raymond F. Chandler III, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and Army Secretary John M. McHugh.
The memo states, "From this day forward, gay and lesbian soldiers may serve in our Army with the dignity and respect they deserve." Amazing that it took 17 years to be granted that right, but seeing it in writing is another thing entirely. Especially to the hundreds of thousands of service men and women who have had to hide their true identities from their commanding officers—and sometimes themselves—for almost two decades.
Don't Ask Don't Tell was a compromise between President Bill Clinton and members of his Congress in response to the hot button issue of gays in the military after the murder of gay Navy petty officer Allen R. Schindler, Jr. DADT was intended as a way to allow gays and lesbians to continue serving but effectively silenced them and created a strange set of confusing double standards on the conflicted soldiers. Until the repeal of DADT, the United States was the only industrialized country that forbade LGBTQ individuals from serving openly in the military.
Until the repeal of DADT, the United States was the only industrialized country that forbade LGBTQ individuals from serving openly in the military.
The letter from the Army goes on to state, "It is the duty of all personnel to treat each other with dignity and respect, while maintaining good order and discipline throughout our ranks. Doing so will help the U.S. Army remain the Strength of the Nation." Hopefully, this new open environment will lead to more respect amongst soldiers and more psychologically present soldiers, instead of the divided ranks and potential homophobia that opponents to the repeal claim will occur.
The Palm Center, a research center that has studied the impact of DADT for more than a decade, presented 61 predictions of possible outcomes to the repeal including effects on troop cohesion, readiness, and attitudes toward gays and lesbians in general. According to Palm Center Director, Aaron Belkin, the repeal of DADT will most likely be a non-event. "What the research shows," Belkin says in a recent PR Newswire, "is that operationally, repeal is no big deal. There will be isolated adjustment issues. But overall, the evidence shows that there will be no negative impact."
Unsurprisingly, conservative religious group Focus on the Family sees the repeal as quite the opposite. One site warns of homosexual advocacy groups "ramping up activism in anticipation of DADT's repeal, seeking to have gay literature distributed on post, gay recruiting quotas, and spousal benefits and on-base housing for soldiers' same-sex partners as soon as possible." (Having never heard of a "gay recruiting quota," we're especially curious to see what that means...)
Considerations of the changes to come are understandably difficult for many in the service, and details of the military's post-DADT sensitivity training have been a bit vague. The attitudes are clear, but the implementation will likely present a few tricky instances. Institutionalized homophobia will surely lurk the same way racism and sexism persist, but now gay men and women in America can finally freely enter the military if they choose.
For Austin's Servicemember's Legal Defense Network (SLDN), the repeal is a huge occasion to celebrate. They'll be gathering, ironically, at HUSH on Congress to commemorate the first day that gays and lesbians can serve in the military openly and honestly. Veterans and soldiers from Fort Hood and Camp Mabry will be the guests of honor, but everyone is welcome to make this day feel momentous. The party starts at 5 p.m., but don't ask when it's over... we can't tell you.