John Shields

Freedom

Filed By John Shields | July 03, 2009 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Don't Ask Don't Tell, Fourth of July, independence day, LGBT

Being the Fourth of July weekend, I thought it important to remind us of part of the Declaration of Independence. After all, it is Independence Day...

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

As we go about our July 4th celebrations - wherever they may be - it is important for every single one of us to remember that there are many men and women serving in the Armed Forces of the United States of America defending the very freedoms we take for granted. And, yes, many of them are gay or lesbian and have to serve in silence - due to the onerous federal legislation known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Here's just one of the stories of someone, code-named "Sarah" to protect her identity, having to serve her country, fighting for our very freedoms, in silence:

"Sarah's" story is not unique, but it is heart-wrenching. As I have said before,

Nearly 13,000 gay and lesbian members have been kicked out of the military since DADT was enacted, including dozens of Arabic translators. Thousands more gay and lesbian servicemembers have died or been injured while serving their country - the same country that doesn't want to even acknowledge their existence."

And that was in March 2009 of this year. Add a few more hundred to that list, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of gay and lesbian American citizens that either do not enlist in OUR military, or decide to leave because they either do not want to live a lie, fear for their lives, or find it unacceptable to live in an environment where they are treated as second class citizens.

As you go about your holiday festivities, please remember those members of the U.S. military serving in silence. In 1993, in an attempt to fulfill a campaign promise to end the policy of homosexuals serving in the military, former Democratic President Bill Clinton signed into law the infamous Don't Ask, Don't Tell legislation. For the first time in the history of the United States, a federal law was enacted that mandated anyone who acknowledged they were gay or lesbian was to be automatically fired.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, reads in part:

Sexual orientation will not be a bar to service unless manifested by homosexual conduct. The military will discharge members who engage in homosexual conduct, which is defined as a homosexual act, a statement that the member is homosexual or bisexual, or a marriage or attempted marriage to someone of the same gender.

In simpler form, the Don't Ask part says mere suspicion of homosexuality does not grant a superior officer the power to initiate an investigation of a service member's sexual orientation. That hasn't necessarily stopped many a dishonorable discharge against a possibly gay or lesbian service member based on rumor or innuendo.

The Don't Tell part prohibits any homosexual (or bisexual) from disclosing his or her sexual orientation, or from speaking about any homosexual relationships, while serving in the U.S. military.

Numerous studies have shown that gays and lesbians openly serving in the military do not in the least bit undermine unit cohesion, morale, or the security of the United States of America.

And yet the beast goes on: DADT@ DADT@ DADT@, dumb...

Numerous editorials and op-ed pieces have been written calling for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

From the editorial board of the NY Times:

The ostensible rationale was that the known presence of gay men and lesbians would undermine morale and unit cohesion, but as it turned out, the policy caused its own kind of damage to military readiness. Thousands of service members have been discharged from duty at a time when the military is stretched by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The loss of highly skilled interpreters and intelligence analysts has been especially damaging.

From an opinion piece in the Air Force Times:

DADT is a failed policy on three counts: moral, humane and national security.

It is morally wrong because it legitimizes a politically expedient lie of omission that violates military values, such as trust, respect and integrity. What's the effect of justifying lies of omission in other military affairs?

It is inhumane because we ask gays and lesbians to endure the hardships of military service and be subjected to the emotional pressure of being outed -- forced into the shadows as second-class citizens by the institution they serve.

Finally, DADT is a threat to national security at the strategic level because one day, the 65,000 currently serving gays and lesbians might choose to out themselves, thus devastating military capabilities and readiness, to say nothing of a recruiting and training nightmare. At the tactical level, it creates a threat in that foreign agents could use the threat of outing gays and lesbians holding high security clearances to secure their cooperation.

Back to the personal for a moment, and another story from "Sarah," who deploys to one of America's battlefields later this year:

The cost of discharging me at this point in my career is not as significant as my partner. But it's significant. I would say it's at least half a million dollars, plus the experience, the 20 years of experience of leading soldiers, the maturity. You don't just put another one of me, in my spot, and make more widgets. We're leading soldiers in life and death situations everyday.

I get emails like this all the time. One soldier told me of how she was cleaning the blood out of Humvees one day in Afghanistan when she got called into the field commander's office to sign a sworn statement saying she was not homosexual.

Think about that, and picture in your mind and feel in your heart what that must have felt like.

And then watch this powerful video - not from a gay and lesbian group, but a group of veterans looking out for other veterans. Many of whom were standing beside a group of gay and lesbian former and current military members, on a cold winter day in March 2009, lobbying Congress to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Or this, from an Army veteran writing on Pam's House Blend, calling on President Obama to fulfill his campaign promises regarding equal rights for ALL Americans.

However, since Obama's election we have watched DADT continue-unabated, full stop, despite two wars that included a military escalation in Afghanistan. For me, especially as a veteran who served in the Army, this policy and its process has become even more repulsive and counterintuitive because we elected Barack Obama; this once in a generation gifted orator who said he was a fierce advocate for the LGBT community-and yet, since his historical election, his growing silence on the question of DADT is stunning, dismissive even.

Or this video, which tells the tale of "Chad" and his partner serving is silence. The film was produced by the great people at In Their Boots. Their next project, entitled "Silent Partners," premieres on July 4, 2009.

As I said in a Washington Blade Editorial in March:

Traditions, whether right or wrong, are steered like battleships -- over time.

It is time to steer this particular battleship. It is time to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." And it's time to let service members, straight or gay, place a picture of a loved one on their desk, whether stationed in a foreign land, or in an office at the Pentagon.

It is time to end this. Otherwise, we are only fighting ourselves.

And so, as each of us goes about our Independence Day celebrations, please take a few minutes to remember every member of the United States Military fighting for our independence. And say a little prayer for all those serving our country - in silence. As they're hoping and praying that we'll do the right thing for them, and their loved ones.

Our nation's collective independence, and security, is waiting. It's well past time to make that call, and repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. For all of us.


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Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 4, 2009 1:37 AM

Excellent!

Rick Sours | July 6, 2009 8:47 AM

very well said