DADT IS DEAD: Assessing The Damage And Tying Up Loose Ends

It’s over. After 18 long and painful years, the US Military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law is officially repealed.

I couldn’t be happier to know that the next generation will only know by my generation’s horror stories what it was like to hide in order to serve, and I can’t help but imagine their reactions.

They will stare in disbelief as they hear Air Force Sgt. Jené Newsome‘s story of police acting as Peeping Toms in order to out her and have no recourse but to accept a discharge.

A closeted servicemember, photograph by Jeff Sheng
A closeted servicemember, photograph by Jeff Sheng

Their jaws will hit the floor when they hear how Navy Lt. Tracy Thorne-Begland was paraded before a jeering crowd in May 1993 and all but called a faggot by US Senators. He would be discharged twice for being gay, once before DADT and once after the law went into effect.

They will shake their heads as Army Sergeant Bleu Copas tells how his superiors broke DADT law multiple times, both in asking him directly if he was gay and in breaking into his personal email account to gather evidence, but in the end, his being quietly gay was more destructive than breaking the law, and he was fired.

A closeted servicemember, photograph by Jeff Sheng
A closeted servicemember, photograph by Jeff Sheng

They will be stunned into silence as Air Force Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach tells how he was outed by falsely accused of rape and had to decide whether to defend himself against those false claims or continue his military career. Ultimately he chose to defend himself, and after his exoneration had to fight in court not to be fired, finally winning his case only because a court ordered it due to the law being repealed.

They will learn in any respectable military history or LGBT history course about Air Force Major Margaret Witt, who fought her discharge so vigorously and so successfully that a court actually ruled that her discharge was unconstitutional, leading to a legal standard that was actually named after her.

A closeted servicemember, photograph by Jeff Sheng
A closeted servicemember, photograph by Jeff Sheng

Those in the next generation will be even more stunned to find that these firings were treated as reasonable and even honorable by more than half the country for over a decade, and by well-respected Republicans for even longer.

Even as we are overjoyed by the end of DADT, we must keep our eye on several loose ends left by the repeal.

  1. Repeal notwithstanding, it is still legal today to discriminate against a servicemember because s/he is lesbian, gay, or bisexual. We’re allowed to serve, but we are absolutely without protection against discrimination in promotion or assignment. First thing Tuesday morning, President Obama should sign an executive order, which should end such discrimination.
  2. All discharges under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell should be reviewed and upgraded to remove DADT-identifiers. Currently, anyone discharged under DADT faces forced outing any time they apply for a job. Discharges under DADT labeled general, dishonorable, or other than honorable should be reviewed and changed to a more appropriate classification.
  3. Discharged servicemembers like Army National Guard Lt. Dan Choi and Army Cpl. Anthony Woods should have debts related to DADT discharge forgiven and previous payments reimbursed. Choi, for example, is getting letters from debt collectors for $2,500 related to his discharge, and Woods has had to pay the Army $35,000 in tuition because they decided they didn’t want to honor their commitment to him. This is unjust and must be reversed.

These actions should happen swiftly and decisively. Doing so would go a long way toward shoring up support within the LGBT community for President Obama’s reelection campaign.

The era of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is ending. Here’s to the new era of fairness and equality that we all continue to work toward.


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