Wednesday, March 4, 2009

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

Unlike many other countries in the world, the US prohibits gays and bisexuals from openly serving in the military. But with racial segregation in the military only ending with Harry Truman’s executive order after World War II, it is clear that the military is hardly at the cutting edge of human equality issues.

When Bill Clinton decided to finally try and end this discrimination back in 1993, he ran into significant resistance from social conservatives both in the military and in Congress resulting in a compromise law known as "Don't ask, don't tell"
which allowed gays and bisexuals to serve in the military — as long as they agreed to stay in the closet.

But over the years, many have come to the conclusion that this law is in fact
a practical ban gay men, lesbians and bisexuals serving in the military.

The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue, Don't Harass" policy is a practical ban on gay men, lesbians and bisexuals serving in the military — similar to the policies banning service by such individuals that have been in place for the past fifty years. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is the only law in this country that authorizes the firing of an American simply for coming out as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Some Americans view the policy as a benign gentlemen’s agreement, with discretion providing the key to job security.

But "discretion" is not a fail-safe mechanism. An honest statement by a service member of his or her sexual orientation to anyone, anywhere, anytime may lead to discharge from the armed services. Moreover, discretion in the form of mandated silence is itself a form of oppression and discrimination.

But old attitudes die hard! Most of us are familiar with the 2007 remarks of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace on the “immoral acts” of homosexuals:

“I believe that homosexual acts between individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts," Pace said. "I do not believe that the armed forces of the United States are well served by a saying through our policies that it's OK to be immoral in any way."

While the election of a black president was a cause of joyous celebration on Election Night especially for the black community, for the gay community with the news of the passage of California Proposition 8 making same sex marriage illegal, it was a bittersweet night.

One of the campaign pledges of President Obama was to end “Don’t ask, don’t tell”. But it is unclear when he will actually get around to this since rescuing a sick economy is believed to be a more pressing concern.

Even more outrageous than Pace’s comments is the attitude of our government that had turned its back on the oppression and even killing of gays in Iraq, the country we are ‘liberating’ as reported in Newsweek.

Some of NEWSWEEK's own local staff were wary of the story. Virtually no government officials would sit for an interview. And the United Nations human-rights office, which has a big presence in Iraq, dodged the subject like a mine field. As with a number of Muslim societies where homosexuality is officially nonexistent but widely practiced, the policy in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's rule was "don't ask, don't tell." But that has changed. Iraqi LGBT, the London (newsgathering organization), says more than 430 gay men have been murdered in Iraq since 2003. For the country's beleaguered gays, it's a friendless landscape.

Many officials say they feel that in a country at war, there are more pressing concerns than gay rights.
More pressing concerns — sound familiar?

While issues like the economy are undoubtedly important, are equal rights for all any less important?

There are more and more people including even some retired military brass who believe that "Don't ask, don't tell" should end.

More than 100 retired U.S. military leaders -- including the former head of the Naval Academy -- have signed a statement calling for an end to the military's "don't ask-don't tell" policy, according to a California-based think tank that supports the movement.

Many other countries in the world, including Canada, Israel and the United Kingdom allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. For a country that is looked upon around the world as a beacon of freedom and equality, can’t the US do the same? Hopefully President Obama will decide to end “Don’t ask, don’t tell” sooner than later.

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