Controversial ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy remains

Protestors campaigning against the ‘don’t ask don’t tell policy’. Photo credit: JMROSENFELD

Protestors campaigning against the ‘don’t ask don’t tell policy’. Photo credit: JMROSENFELD

Hopes for a landmark ending of the US military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy were dashed on Wednesday, when the Court of Appeals allowed the Pentagon to continue enforcing the policy.

The resurrection of the infamous “don’t ask, don’t tell” follows an injunction last week by a federal judge who ordered a ban of the policy.

It is a policy that prevents openly gay, lesbian and bisexual soldiers from serving in the military. That it still exists, and is regularly enacted – 428 service people were discharged for being openly gay in 2008 – is astonishing. The policy justifies the open and acknowledged discrimination of gay, lesbian and bisexual service members through claims that its implementation is necessary to maintain military cohesion and morale.

However, arguments that an ending of the ban will damage unit morale are unfounded due to the fact that countries including Canada, Australia, Israel and the United Kingdom all allow openly gay people to serve in their armed forces.

This latest series of events has brought “don’t ask, don’t tell” into the media spotlight, and it may well be only a matter of time before the discriminatory and archaic policy is demolished altogether.

The policy has in fact been progressively diluted over the past year. In March, Defence Secretary Robert Gates announced that anyone outing a service member as gay would be required to do so under oath. He stressed the need to discourage instances in which a person can be discharged if evidence from hearsay or an overheard statement is used. The Pentagon also announced that it would be more difficult for gays to be discharged as only five top military officials would have the power to dismiss service members.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” was introduced as a compromise policy in 1993 by former President Bill Clinton who had initially urged a complete repeal of the then outright ban on gay soldiers. Former Lieutenant Dan Choi, has become a high-profile figurehead for those seeking a repeal of the “don’t ask don’t tell policy”. Since coming out, Choi –an Iraq war veteran and graduate of the prestigious West Point military academy – has attacked the need to lie about sexual identity as a serviceman. His website denounces “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy as “an immoral law and policy that forces American soldiers to deceive and lie about their sexual orientation.”

For a gay community holding hopes that the current administration would decisively end a policy that Obama pledged “would end on my watch”, the recent events will be intensely frustrating.

The Obama administration is currently on the receiving end of anger from gay rights organizations and liberal pressure groups following the government’s move to temporarily postpone the federal judge’s overturning of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. But despite the delay, it seems inevitable that Obama’s promise to “finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are” will come into fruition.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” appears finally to be crumbling. Until gay and lesbian service members are finally allowed to openly acknowledge their sexuality, it remains a shameful remnant of an archaic culture of homophobia.

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