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Lesbians, gays & bisexuals serving openly in the military

Brief summary of the military's "Don't ask;
don't tell
" (DADT) policy.
Books on DADT.

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Sponsored link.

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Prior to 1993, lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) service members could only survive in the military if they remained deep in "the closet" and hid their sexual orientation from everyone, including investigating teams charged with hunting down and expelling LGB service members.

In 1993, President Clinton signed a bill into law creating the Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy. This allowed LGB members to serve, as long as they did not reveal their sexual orientation to others. Meanwhile, the military chain of command was not supposed to inquire about service member's orientation.

The U.S. was almost alone among developed countries in maintaining such a policy. By the end of 2010, at least 25 countries allowed lesbians, gays, and bisexuals to serve openly in their armed forces. This includes essentially all NATO countries including Britain and Canada as well as Israel, according to the Palm Center, a research institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara. 1

Starting in 2005, a series of bills to start the process of repealing the bill were introduced to Congress.

The stakes were very high for many religious and social conservatives. Past studies have indicated that heterosexuals who are homophobic -- i.e. who are opposed to equal rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender persons (LGBT) -- often change their mind when they find out that a respected friend, co-worker or relative is openly gay. Repealing DADT can be expected to change the attitudes of perhaps hundreds of thousands of service members when they find out that a trusted, respected fellow soldier happens to have a lesbian, gay, or bisexual orientation.

When the armed forces eliminated racial segregation after World War II and gender discrimination later, the result was a lowering of racism and sexism -- both within the armed forces and in society generally. Expressing racist and sexist thoughts became less acceptable. Racists and sexists became increasingly considered as bigots. The same dynamic is likely to happen over sexual orientation after the DADT policy is repealed.

The most recent repeal bill passed in the House, and passed the Senate committee. However, it was initially stalled in the Senate on its first try during 2010-SEP.

A second attempt was made to pass the bill in the Senate on 2010-DEC-09 as an amendment to a much larger military appropriations bill. It also failed.

On 2010-DEC-10, Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) crafted a stand-alone DADT bill separate from the larger military appropriations bill.

A few days later, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll indicated that almost 77% of Americans, 86% of Democrats, 74% of Republicans, 74% of Independents, 70% of white evangelicals and 84% of NOTAS (None of the above; persons with no religious affiliation) supported an end to the DADT policy.

Some veterans group supported the retention of DADT. However, the most politically active groups that opposed the repeal of DADT appear to have been fundamentalist para-church organizations of various religions, and Republican members of Congress. Both of these groups seem to be exhibiting a major disconnect from the mood of American adults. All of the fundamentalist organizations that we have monitored were solidly in favor retaining DADT -- and have remained so. 93% of the Republican members in the House -- all but 15 representatives -- followed the lead of these groups and the party leadership, ignored their own voters, and voted against the stand-alone repeal bill. More details. .

The Senate voted on Saturday morning, 2010-DEC-18, in a procedural vote to terminate a Republican filibuster and proceed to a vote on repealing the DADT policy. The bill itself was passed later that day by a vote of 65 (including 8 Republicans!) to 31 against (all Republicans). President Obama's signed the bill during the morning of 2010-DEC-22.

The bill did not end DADT. It only authorized the start of a process that ended the DADT policy in 2011-SEP. The bill required that the policy remain in effect until 60 days after the President, Defense Secretary, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff all certify that the transition can be made without adversely affecting the levels of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.

The DADT policy remained in place after the bill was signed into law. Until the law became effective, lesbian, gay and bisexual service members were in danger of being ejected from the military if they revealed their sexual orientation.

A parallel path to cancel the DADT policy was also underway -- through the federal courts. In 2010, a California district court judge found that the DADT policy violated the U.S. Constitution. She issued an injunction which was suspended while the Department of Justice appealed the ruling.

On 2011-JUL-06, a three judge panel of the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals restored the injunction. According to Reuters:

"R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans which filed the suit [in district court] said the ruling 'removes all uncertainty - American service members are no longer under threat of discharge as the repeal implementation process goes forward'."

The military initially accepted the ruling. Colonel Dave Lapan, said they were immediately taking "steps to inform the field of this order." 2 However, a week later, the Department of Justice filed an emergency appeal for the 9th Circuit Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse its decision and reinstate the DADT policy. The appeal was granted, and so the DADT policy was once more in force. However, the court prohibited the military from investigating, harassing, or dismissing suspected LGBT service members, thus making the policy unenforceable.

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2011-JUL-22: Committment to end DADT policy on 2011-SEP-20:

On 2011-JUL-22, the Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff met with President Obama. All were ready to meet the criteria required by the DADT repeal bill. They certified that DADT can be ended without adverse affects on the military.

President Obama issued a statement saying:

"I have certified and notified Congress that the requirements for repeal have been met. 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell' will end, once and for all, in 60 days – on September 20, 2011."

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2011-SEP-20: The Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy ended, at least temporarily:

As of 12:01 AM, LGBT service members were able to come out of the closet without risking expulsion from the service. However, several Republican candidates for the presidency in 2012 have included a reinstatement of the DADT policy in their platforms. The DADT policy will probably be reactivated if the Republican party were to capture the presidency, House and Senate in 2012. However, by that time, the percentage of American adults who would wish that DADT be left in the dustbin of history would probably exceed 85%. The Republican party would suffer significant loss in support if it were to try to reinstate DADT. Fear of voter reaction may overpower their dislike of the LGBT community.

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Books dealing with the war over DADT:

  • Book cover image  Dr. Aaron Belkin, author, "How We Won: Progressive Lessons From the Repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Kindle eBook edition. Read reviews or order this eBook safely from Amazon.com online book store

    Amazon's product description:

    "... In "How We Won," Aaron Belkin argues that the public needed to be persuaded that gay troops would not harm the military before Congress could be convinced to repeal the ban. Belkin, a scholar with more than a decade of hands-on experience in the repeal campaign, shares an insider's perspective on the strategies that he and others used to encourage this change of mind -- and change of heart -- in the American people and its Congress. His top strategy, a tactic which, surprisingly, progressives often fail to pursue, was targeting conservative lies.

    The implications of Belkin's tactics extend far beyond the grass-roots movement to repeal 'don't ask, don't tell'. They challenge some of the left's most conventional wisdom about how to successfully set social policy. And the lessons that emerge could help progressives persuade the public about the merits of other big, liberal ideas, including the benefits of higher taxes and the dangers of an excessively strong military.

    But for now, as Belkin says, it's time to celebrate this one great victory."

  • Book cover image  Josh Seefried, "Our time: Breaking the silence of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Available in hardcover and Kindle formats. Read reviews or order this eBook safely from Amazon.com online book store

    Amazon's product description:

    "Active-duty LGBT soldiers share their stories of serving under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," revealing an intimate portrait of military life.

    Our Time marks the end of more than a decade of silence, giving voice to the LGBT men and women who served under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." These individuals enlisted knowing that the military would ask them to bury an integral part of themselves and yet joined because of their deep belief that the values of the military were worth the tremendous sacrifice. Our Time is their story.

    Edited by air force officer J. D. Smith, a cofounder of the underground LGBT military organization OutServe, Our Time is a collection of remarkable depth and diversity. We witness the abuse-physical and mental-endured at the hands of fellow soldiers and superiors. We see the hardships faced by their families and partners and feel the pain of the choice between military and self. There are also examples of humanity at its very best: leaders with the courage to support their comrades in the face of tremendous pressure, friendships forged and minds opened, and love that endures the very toughest of odds.

    Throughout we are reminded of the bravery and selflessness of the men and women who chose to serve our country and defend our liberties while their own freedom was withheld. At once a testament to the wrongs of the policy and a celebration of the good that endured in spite of it, Our Time marks the start of a new era in our national history."

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References used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. Anne Flaherty, "Obama to sign law ending military gay ban," Associated Press, 2010-DEC-18, at: http://news.yahoo.com/
  2. Jeremy Pelofsky and Dan Levine, "Court orders gay military service ban lifted," Reuters, 3011-JUL-06, at: http://news.yahoo.com

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Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality & Bisexuality > Challenges > DADT > here

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Copyright © 2000 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-MAY-25
Latest update: 2011-SEP-25
Author: B.A. Robinson

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