Don't ask, don't tell
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U.S. President Bill Clinton had, in 1992, campaigned on an agenda of equal rights for gays. However, Congress passed, over his objections, an outright ban on gays in the military. Therefore, the best Clinton could do was to offer a "compromise" in the form of a presidential directive that limited the enforcement of the ban by barring investigations into the sexuality of service members and also barring service people from discussing their sexual orientation. The official policy was "Don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue, and don't harass."
As of September 20, 2011, the policy is no longer in effect, and gays are openly serving in the US military. Transgender Americans are still completely barred from serving, however, under rules similar to those for gays and lesbians pre-DADT.
DADT was repealed by the Senate in 2010, during a lame-duck session of Congress. President Obama signed the repeal into law on December 22, 2010, and it went into full implementation nearly a year later in September of 2011.
A poll released after the repeal shows that repealing DADT did not have the ill effects on troop morale or any other military operations which had been predicted by its opponents, probably due to the fact that not having to witch hunt gays or worry about being discharged for being gay has allowed all members of the military to focus on their fucking job for once.
2010 and the move for repeal
Barack Obama had campaigned on ending DADT (among other things), but publicly did nothing about it his entire first year in office,[note 1] The Secretary of Defense (a Republican, no less!) and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs both met with Congress to advocate ending DADT entirely.[note 2] Moreover, the top commander in the Middle East (Gen. David Petraeus) and the top commander in Iraq (Gen. Odierno) called it a non-issue, saying that no one in the military really cared if DADT is kept or not.[note 3]
Republicans in Congress had consistently pushed against the repeal, for fear that teh gayz will soon corrupt all of our fighting men and we'll end up just like the French or something.
The 2004 Log Cabin suit
The Log Cabin Republicans brought a suit challenging DADT in 2004, but the trial did not begin until July of 2010. Among the evidence they presented was information regarding the inconsistent application of the policy; some service members were out for years before being discharged, whereas others never came out but were exposed by third parties and immediately discharged. Discharges were also typically delayed until after gay service members returned from combat deployment, suggesting that the military had no real interest in actually preventing openly gay soldiers from being deployed. (If an openly gay soldier can hurt morale and unit cohesion, why not weed them out before deployment?)
The challenge was successful, and on October 12, 2010, Judge Virginia Phillips ordered all enforcement of Don't Ask Don't Tell and related policies to cease immediately. The Department of Justice requested a stay and appealed the decision soon afterward. In the interim, enforcement of DADT was haphazard; the Department of Defense sent memos requiring the various branches of the armed forces to comply with Phillips' order, but recruitment offices continued to turn away gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, either unaware of the change or anticipating that a stay pending appeal would soon be granted. It's also likely that they simply did not want to recruit openly gay future-service members who would have been kicked out in the event of DADT being kept.
The theory was:
- Gays and lesbians risk losing their security clearance.
- Unscrupulous persons often attempt to blackmail gays and lesbians into revealing classified information rather than have their sexual orientation revealed to their commanding officer in a letter.
- If the commanding officer learns of their sexual orientation in a letter this would result in the loss of their security clearance, lest they continue to have access to classified information which they might reveal to a blackmailer.
- See #1.
Circumstances of discharge
There were three possible justifications for discharging a member of the armed forces under the policy:
- "The member has engaged in, attempted to engage in, or solicited another to engage in a homosexual act or acts."
- "The member has stated that he or she is a homosexual or bisexual, or words to that effect."
- "The member has married or attempted to marry a person known to be of the same biological sex."
There were some exceptions to the first two; if the person in question can demonstrate that they were really straight, i.e. that any gay actions or statements were out-of-character or just jokes, that person can avoid discharge. There are no such exceptions for same-sex marriage or attempted same-sex marriage, despite the fact that unlike the first two, marriage doesn't have to do with sexual orientation.
Repercussions of Don't ask, don't tell
- After DADT came into existence, more, not fewer, gays were discharged. So what was this for again?
- Many service people with critical skills, such as translators, have been among those discharged.
- Gay members who never told, were "found out" (by personal letters, by personal web pages, or personal ads) and were pursued despite the "don't pursue" line.
- There were several formal reviews of DADT while it was in place. All concluded the DADT policy was (at the time) a failure on many fronts; all admitted there was a financial burden to the military to have such a policy, but none concluded that it should be removed as formal policy.
- Prior to Congress' actions in 2010, DADT had been upheld five times in Federal Courts. It never reached the US Supreme Court, though it would have been unlikely for SCOTUS to overturn a military policy.
- The threat of outing someone became an even more powerful than it already was for rapists in the military to cover up their crimes.
Case studies from other countries
“”You don't have to be straight to be in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight.
Gay activists and military experts showed that the conservative position was bullshit by studying the open homosexual service that already exists in other countries. Take, for instance, the United Kingdom's military:
- Large-scale resignations from the UK armed forces when the ban on gays was lifted were widely expected in some quarters — but in practice, they did not materialize.
- At least one British army brigadier publicly resigned in protest, citing "strongly held moral and military convictions" but most observers were surprised at how smoothly the new law — which was forced on the UK government by the European Court of Human Rights — was implemented.
Prior to the US joining this list, the following NATO and EU nations have either always allowed LGBT persons to serve openly or allowed it in recent times:
- It was common for Obama and his administration to take issues off the front burner, then later get them done, keeping other issues in the media for everyone to froth over.
- In fact, they had already issued regulations making it much harder to dismiss someone based on sexuality, removing the option of kicking out those who are "outed" by others.
- This isn't exactly true, as the Commandant of the Marine Corps was officially against repeal, but he seems to be the only serving military person willing to say so, and after the repeal went along without complaining.
- CBS News: "Don't ask, don't tell" consigned to history 20 September 2012
- The opinion in the case.
- Brainy Quote: Barry Goldwater
- "There was this expectation that there would be problems, but it just didn't happen. People just got on with their work" — Dave Small, ex-Royal Navy 
- "It's a non-issue... You can be a very good officer, a creative one, a brave one and be gay at the same time." — ex-IDF officer and Israeli Consul David Saranga