DADT Repeal One Year Later

Posted by Victoria Martin
West Chester University, Class of 2015

One year ago, the United States repealed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, putting an end to years of silence among lesbian, gay, and bisexual soldiers who have served, and continue to serve our nation.

The history of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell began with the administration of former President Bill Clinton, who signed the policy into law in October of 1993. Before the passage of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell there was an explicit ban on homosexual soldiers serving in the military in any capacity. The policy allowed lesbian, gay, and bisexual soldiers to serve in the military, provided they did not disclose their sexuality or engage in any “homosexual activities” while in the service. The policy did not forbid heterosexual service members from openly disclosing their relationships, or engaging in romantic and sexual activity. Additionally, the policy was to forbid inquires into the sexual orientation of a service member. However, in the fifteen years the policy was in effect, an estimated 13,650 soldiers were discharged after being “outed” in some capacity. Soldiers discharged due to sexual orientation were in some cases subject to receiving less than honorable discharges, despite their service records, and were not allowed to reenlist.

President Barack Obama said that he was favor of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell while campaigning for President in 2008, and confirmed that he would work to end the ban during the 2010 State of the Union Address. This position was backed up by several government and military officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Opponents of allowing lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members serve openly claimed that morale would be lowered, cohesion would be threatened, and the military would see a mass exodus of heterosexual service members. A statement from a group of 1,167 retired admirals and generals claimed that, “Repeal… would undermine recruiting and retention, impact leadership at all levels, have adverse effects on the willingness of parents who lend their sons and daughters to military service, and eventually break the All-Volunteer Force.”

President Barack Obama signed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in December of 2010, and after the military underwent training programs in preparation, the act was officially repealed on September 20, 2011 . Contrary to the beliefs of opponents of the repeal, open service has reportedly been a non-issue. A study released by the Palm Center, conducted by both military and private civilians, found that there had been no negative impact upon the military upon allowing lesbian, gay, and bisexual soldiers to serve openly. In fact, retention of personnel, readiness, and cohesion were found to be entirely unchanged, and there was no net change found in service member morale. Service members reported that they felt allowing their fellow soldiers to serve openly had not affected the way the military operated in any capacity. The Palm Center study concluded that the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has had very little impact in the daily activities of the military, apart from increased trust and openness among soldiers.

While the military had made great strides in the rights of lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members in the past year, there is still much progress to be made. Under the Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex spouses of service members are not entitled to full military benefits. Service members discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell have been unable to receive compensation from the government for benefits they would have been entitled to had they not been discharged, or had they received an honorable discharge.

Trans citizens are currently unable to serve in the military. The military treats identifying as trans* as a mental illness, and thus denies admission into the armed forces to those who are not cisgender. Policy also forbids enlistment by anyone who has undergone surgery on the genitalia, thus barring post-operative trans* individuals from serving. “Cross-dressing” is considered grounds for denying enlistment, or discharge. Recently, veteran Ashley Ackley, whom previously identified as John Ackley while serving in the National Guard, petitioned to be reenlisted. Ackley served in the military for six years, and her service included a tour in Iraq. Ackley sought the help of several military recruiters, before she was definitively denied readmission, under the policy on mental illness and gender reassignment surgery. Ackley is currently a member of the Inactive Reserve, though in an interview with CNN, she expressed the opinion that it would be unlikely for her to be called into service from the reserve.

The consequences of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell have proven to be positive for both service members, and the military at large. The first same-sex marriage of a service member was held on midnight of September 19, 2011, by Navy Lt. Gary Ross and his husband, a civilian. Military chaplains are allowed to officiate same-sex marriages, in states which they may be held. Service members discharged under the policy have been able to reenlist, and return to their jobs serving their country. Soldiers no longer need to live in fear of being discharged simply for being who they are. While great progress has been made in a single year, the nation must continue to work forward to a military where citizens of all sexual orientations and gender identities can serve their country openly.

Further Resources:

The Palm Center: One Year Out

Ashley Ackles interview with CNN

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