Active duty servicemember, vets say few among the rank and file care whether someone is gay, but repeal will lift the burden of secrecy
DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
Even though the military’s anti-gay “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was repealed in December, remains in place until military are able to decide how best to implement repeal and what benefits will be offered to spouses of gay and lesbian military personnel.
Defense Undersecretary Clifford Stanley and Gen. James Cartwright held a press conference Friday, Jan, 28, at the Pentagon to give the first report on progress toward implementation, offering only a hint of an actual schedule. They said then that training is set to begin in February and should take three months.
Under those conditions, DADT will remain in effect at least until May, and gay and lesbians servicemembers can still be discharged under the policy.
In January, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued the report Military Personnel: Personnel and Cost Data Associated with Implementing DOD’s Homosexual Conduct Policy evaluating the cost DADT has had on the military.
Over the past five years 3,664 people have been discharged under DADT at an average cost of $52,800 per dismissal.
Jeffrey S., an airman first class based at Beale Air Force Base in Northern California, said that from his experience, recent discharges under DADT involved people the armed forces were trying to get rid of for other reasons as well.
(Because DADT is still in effect and, according to Stanley, new cases continue to be processed under the law, the airman’s name and the names of over gay servicemembers interviewed for this article have been disguised to the extent he requested.)
Jeffrey said that since graduating from basic training, he has lived fairly openly in the Air Force. The GAO report shows, however, that almost three-quarters of all DADT discharges were from the Army and Navy.
Jeffrey also said that he was trained for specific technical duties and would be hard to replace. But that hasn’t stopped discharges from other branches where service members were pursued despite their language specialties and other skills. The report indicates that of the total number of people dismissed under DADT over the past five years, 39 percent had critical occupations.
The statistics do indicate that many who were separated from the service had additional issues. Only 57 percent of those released during that period received an honorable discharge.
The other 1,580 service members were given a general discharge or worse, indicating additional situations, whether real or trumped up.
Sean T. was recently honorably discharged from the Army after serving five years, including two tours of duty in Iraq. He had been based at Fort Hood in Texas during part of his enlistment. But after not finding a civilian job, Sean is trying to reenlist and is currently in the Army Reserves.
He said his sexual orientation is more of an issue in the Reserves than in his Army unit. He knew a number of other gay soldiers while serving and no one he knew personally were discharged under DADT.
“There were usually other reasons,” he said of those he had heard were discharged under DADT. “Patterns of misconduct.”
In his Jan. 25 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama said, “Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.”
At the press conference Cartwright said that they learned from the experience of other military organizations that began allowing gays and lesbians to serve, faster integration was better.
Jeffrey said he has seen little opposition among enlisted personnel. But, he said, one person in his unit did not re-enlist because of the DADT repeal. Others, though, simply didn’t care, Jeffrey said.
Sean said that he felt the least amount of pressure from DADT while in Iraq.
“It wasn’t an issue because you deploy with people you’ve known for a long time,” he said. “It’s more like family.”
Before the repeal is implemented, Cartwright said, most troops will have to complete a training session.
Jeffrey said his understanding was that the training would be a sort of sensitivity class. While attitudes couldn’t be changed during a short session, Jeffrey said he expects the sessions to enumerate forms of inappropriate speech.
Service members are written up for using racial epithets, for example, and Jeffrey said he assumes the same would happen after the repeal is in effect.
But while attitudes might not change, respect between service members could be expected and required.
The vote on the repeal was delayed more than six months in the Senate while the military studied a variety of related issues, including spousal benefits. Studies delayed implementation again after the repeal was signed.
But Stanley announced that no partner benefits would be offered, citing the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex couples.
Sean, who has a partner, wants to re-enlist despite the lack of benefits and recognition of his partner.
“They’ll come eventually,” he said.
Among military personnel, the most vocal opposition to repeal of DADT was among the chaplain corps. Cartwright said no changes in rules would apply to chaplains.
Jeffrey said that he believed most military chaplains would be professional enough to refer someone that they couldn’t help to someone else. He said it was unthinkable, however, for a chaplain to turn someone away because of that person’s race or religion, and he believes a chaplain who couldn’t be professional with gay and lesbian service members might not belong in the military.
“They should be required to serve everybody,” Jeffrey said.
In an odd twist of the regulations, the decision to not change any rules for the chaplains might require them to do just that.
As bad as DADT has been for some, several retired military personnel said the previous policy was worse.
“I was paranoid about a dishonorable discharge,” said Jim from Phoenix, a gay veteran who was stationed at Fort Bragg. He was honorably discharged in Jan. 1990, three years before DADT was adopted.
While serving, he said he had one member of his unit that was quite flamboyant.
“Everybody liked the guy,” he said. “It’s more of a problem with politicians and with the higher ups.”
But those who weren’t liked were referred for dishonorable discharge for lying on their service applications.
Bill Royal, another veteran, said, “Most people on active duty don’t care.”
He said he believes the military brass disliked the change because it was one less way they could control those under them.
But even Jeffrey, who said he has had little problem with people around him knowing his sexual orientation, said the repeal would be a big relief.
“The threat of losing my job will be gone,” he said. “If somebody asks, I can say I’m gay. I can be myself. I don’t have to worry about keeping things secret. Integrity is a core value and I don’t like having to lie.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.