Friday, May 21, 2010

Time to End Don't Ask, Don't Tell

“I think it’s been a long time coming,” explained Caroline Necheles, coordinator of UMass Boston’s veterans’ center and nine year Navy operations specialist, regarding the recent proposal to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is the military policy that restricts officials in the armed forces from asking service members about their sexual orientation and ‘permits’ homosexuals to serve in the military, as long as they don’t talk about their orientation or participate in any homosexual acts. Although this policy is labeled as a fix for an issue that has polarized America’s social political climate, it is in effect a double standard that inevitably leads to discrimination. Necheles experienced firsthand the effects of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.’ She commented, “During my deployment in 2006 I was asked if I was participating in an inappropriate relationship with a woman, after e-mails were exposed between another female military service member and myself.” Necheles was not disciplined officially for her conduct, but she was questioned by her superiors, which itself is a form of discrimination. Other members of the armed forces have not been as fortunate as Necheles, and have suffered disciplinary measures for openly admitting their sexual orientation.

One such incident occurred when Stephen Benjamin, an Arabic translator for the Navy, was discharged for “suspicious” instant messaging conversations he had with his roommate. The two wanted to keep in touch after his roommate was deployed overseas. According to Benjamin, “The result was the termination of our careers, and the loss to the military of two more Arabic translators. The sixty eight other (heterosexual) service members remained on active duty, despite many having committed violations far more egregious than ours; the Pentagon apparently doesn’t consider hate speech, derogatory comments about women, or sexual misconduct grounds for dismissal.” This shocking story is just one of many that resulted from the tactless guidelines of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and its obvious unlawful and discriminatory nature.

The policy infringes upon the rights and freedoms of American citizens and institutionalizes discrimination. What is most dangerous and sinister about this policy is the way it is portrayed as the solution to a problem it actually serves to perpetuate and augment. In effect, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell allows the armed forces to fully discriminate against anyone who behaves in a way that warrants an investigation, according to their own subjective criteria. That is to say, this policy states that officials are forbidden to “ask” if someone is gay, but if and when they feel under the impression that someone is homosexual, they have the full clearance to question, investigate, and ultimately terminate any individual.

DADT was first set into place in 1993 by Bill Clinton. Initially, President Clinton vowed to allow openly homosexual individuals to serve in the military. However, Clinton underestimated the resistance he would meet on the issue. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was the compromise law that resulted. Since 1993 thousands of homosexual military members have been discharged, when their personal sexual orientations were revealed. These military members served the United States armed forces with honor and reverence, but have been dismissed because of issues in their personal lives. According to Necheles, “The U.S. needs to realize that if homosexual Americans are willing to fight for their country, they should be allowed to be legally open with their sexuality and permitted to participate in the military.” Smoking a cigarette and looking sincere, Necheles continued, “When you enter the military, you swear to uphold the Code of Conduct. Furthermore, you are expected to give up your right to privacy and a personal life. However, to me that doesn’t mean that homosexuals can’t support the Code of Conduct while also being true to themselves.”

Seventeen years after DADT was instated, the policy has come under substantial scrutiny. In March of 2010, the Senate Armed Forces Committee began preparing the repeal of DADT in taking the first steps in terminating the indecent law. Ultimately though, the decision rests with congress where many of the members still favor keeping the policy intact. Republican congressman Duncan Hunter explained, “I think that the majority of people in the military are young kids. They usually have more conservative families, more conservative backgrounds and I think that it would go against their principles and it would frankly make everybody a little bit uneasy to be in these close situations, how you go into combat, you know, the shower situation, the bathroom situation, just, you know, very mundane details - things that we have men and women separated, you know, because we don’t want to have that sexual distraction. That exists for the homosexual aspect of things, too.” Congressman Hunter represents the bigotry that is unfortunately ever-present in our society. By insisting that allowing homosexuals in the military would make everyone “uneasy” is insulting and discriminatory. The idea of fighting in a war seems to be more harmful for these so called “conservative kids,” than a gay guy in the bathroom stall next to them.

President Obama announced, “"This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are." Necheles speaks about the repeal in an optimistic and hopeful way, “I was exceptionally happy when the possible repeal of the policy was announced. I thought it was very righteous of Admiral Mullen to announce that it is the ‘right thing’ for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to be overturned. It’s about time."

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