It would appear that there are now very few military leaders who continue to believe that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" serves any useful purpose. Following on the heels of respected leaders like retired Joint Chiefs Chairman John Shalikashvili, retired Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy and retired (and legendary) Army Brigadier General Pat Foote, the Associated Press reports that a group of more than 100 Generals and Admirals have added their names to the list of those who want this unfair, counter-productive law to finally end.
"As is the case with Great Britain, Israel, and other nations that allow gays and lesbians to serve openly, our service members are professionals who are able to work together effectively despite differences in race, gender, religion, and sexuality," the officers wrote. "The list of 104 former officers who signed the statement appears to signal growing support for resolving the status of gays in the military," the AP added in its story announcing the statement.
The truth, as we all know, is that the officers are right. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is not in the best interest of our national security and it forces brave, patriotic service members - who happen to be LGBT - to serve in unacceptable silence. We can all agree that it is long past time for this law to be repealed, and to allow those who serve our country to do so without a shadow of prejudice and implied indignity to cast over them, courtesy of the federal government.
But . . .
. . . we also need to do it right this time, and in this case, "right" must trump "fast." It is imperative that we learn from our mistakes in 1993 . . . understand what is possible, and what will take a little extra work, in the new political landscape dawning in Washington . . . and honor the LGBT service members who honor us with their service by being strategic, smart and savvy in our approach to repeal.
We cannot let our men and women in uniform down. There is, undoubtedly, a bright new opportunity to scrap "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" once and for all. It will not happen overnight, however, and it will not happen without tremendous effort on the part of the LGBT community, our leading advocacy organizations and every American who supports us in the effort.
The new administration should tackle repeal. But should it happen in the first 100 days? No. And should it happen in the first year? That's a question we do not yet know enough to answer. But the work must begin now.
First, we have to remember that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was put into place by a Democratic Congress and administration. While I do not believe that either party, in 1993, necessarily harbored any ill will toward LGBT troops, I do believe they were misinformed and misunderstood the debate and the challenge at hand. That reality, combined with an LGBT advocacy movement that was far younger and less sophisticated than it is today, led to the catastrophe we know as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
In January, we begin anew with a Congress filled with so-called "blue dog" Democrats who are arriving in Washington with little or no insight into the campaign for repeal and a constituency base of less-than-liberal voters back home who will decide their fates again in just two year. They will be understandably nervous about tackling an issue that nearly derailed President Clinton's first two years in office, and they will need to be educated, enlightened and informed about why this can be done . . . and why it must be done.
President-Elect Obama cannot repeal the law without their support, and they will only be moved to our side through the support of those who know this issue well, and can help build a consensus that the time for repeal is here.
Congress has already passed a comprehensive hate crimes law before, and it is reasonable to assume that a trans-inclusive ENDA is within our reach. And while no one deserves to be at the front of the line for progress and change more than the troops who serve on the frontlines, no one deserves a well-thought-out, smart and winning strategy more than them, either. The truth is that hate crimes and employment non-discrimination will likely be ahead of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the legislative line, but that should not deter us from beginning the groundwork now to get rid of this heinous and un-American law.
In short: I'd rather see a one or two-year effort that ends in victory than a repeat of the 1993 debacle that ends in another decade of discrimination in the armed forces.
Make no mistake: President-Elect Obama should work for repeal - and while he's at it should wipe away the military regulations that discriminate against transgender troops, too - but he should do it with a timeline that makes sense. The consequences are too heavy and significant not to do just that.
When I think about the campaign for repeal, and the need to do it right, I think about veterans like Jason Knight, Sonya Contreras and Monica Helms, who are just a few of the one-million-plus LGBT Americans who have given our country so much. And I think about the militay parents, like Nancy Manzella and PFLAG dad (and retired Colonel) Dan Tepfer, who are working so hard for a day when their children can serve openly and honestly in our armed forces, too. And when I think of all of them, I remember how important it is that we win this time.
Winning that battle for them - and with them - will take a herculean effort on everyone's part. No one ever said that making history was easy or quick. Just ask President-Elect Obama.
We have learned in recent weeks that education must come before a vote, and the work to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will be no different. Now, for this fight, we have a clean slate, an opportunity for a fresh start, and a real shot at winning this time. But we owe it to Jason, Sonya, Monica, Nancy and Dan - and so many others - to be methodical and strategic about it this time around.
Yes, we need to call for repeal, but we also need to call for a timeline, and a strategy, that will work. We simply cannot accept another decade of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."