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Don't Ask, Don't Tell (Part 2)

Don't Ask, Don't Tell (Part 2)

Hey everyone; welcome to the podcast. If you haven’t listened to last week’s episode, I encourage you to do so—we cover the rise of the government’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy in the U.S. military. In this week’s episode, we’ll be covering the intense judicial, social and legislative debate over the policy. It’s the 2nd episode in a 3 episode arc.

Following the July 1999 murder of Army Pfc. Barry Winchell, apparently motivated by anti-gay bias, President Clinton issued an executive order modifying the Uniform Code of Military Justice to permit evidence of a hate crime to be admitted during the sentencing phase of a trial. In December, Secretary of Defense William Cohen ordered a review of DADT to determine if the policy's anti-gay harassment component was being observed. When that review found anti-gay sentiments were widely expressed and tolerated in the military, the DOD adopted a new anti-harassment policy in July 2000, though its effectiveness was disputed. On December 7, 1999, Hillary Clinton told an audience of gay supporters that "Gays and lesbians already serve with distinction in our nation's armed forces and should not face discrimination. Fitness to serve should be based on an individual's conduct, not their sexual orientation." 

Later that month, retired Gen. Carl E. Mundy defended the implementation of DADT against what he called the "politicization" of the issue by both Clintons. He cited discharge statistics for the Marines for the past 5 years that showed 75% were based on "voluntary admission of homosexuality" and 49% occurred during the first 6 months of service, when new recruits were most likely to reevaluate their decision to enlist. He also argued against any change in the policy, writing in the New York Times: "Conduct that is widely rejected by a majority of Americans can undermine the trust that is essential to creating and maintaining the sense of unity that is critical to the success of a military organization operating under the very different and difficult demands of combat." The conviction of Winchell's murderer, according to the New York Times, "galvanized opposition" to DADT, an issue that had "largely vanished from public debate". Opponents of the policy focused on punishing harassment in the military rather than the policy itself, which Sen. Chuck Hagel defended on December 25: "The U.S. armed forces aren't some social experiment."

The principal candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000, Al Gore and Bill Bradley, both endorsed military service by open gays and lesbians, provoking opposition from high-ranking retired military officers, notably the recently retired commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Charles C. Krulak. He and others objected to Gore's statement that he would use support for ending DADT as a "litmus test" when considering candidates for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The 2000 Democratic Party platform was silent on the issue, while the Republican Party platform that year said: "We affirm that homosexuality is incompatible with military service." Following the election of George W. Bush in 2000, observers expected him to avoid any changes to DADT, since his nominee for Secretary of State Colin Powell had participated in its creation. Conservative critics of DADT were disappointed that he failed to withdraw the "don't ask" directives and return the military to its earlier complete ban on service by gays and lesbians.

In July 2004 the American Psychological Association issued a statement that DADT "discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation" and that "Empirical evidence fails to show that sexual orientation is germane to any aspect of military effectiveness including unit cohesion, morale, recruitment and retention." It said that the U.S. military's track record overcoming past racial and gender discrimination demonstrated its ability to integrate groups previously excluded. The Republican Party platform that year reiterated its support for the policy—"We affirm traditional military culture, and we affirm that homosexuality is incompatible with military service."—while the Democratic Party maintained its silence.

In February 2005, the Government Accountability Office released estimates of the cost of DADT. It reported at least $95.4 million in recruiting costs and at least $95.1 million for training replacements for the 9,488 troops discharged from 1994 through 2003, while noting that the true figures might be higher. 

In September, as part of its campaign to demonstrate that the military allowed open homosexuals to serve when its manpower requirements were greatest, the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military (now the Palm Center) reported that army regulations allowed the active duty deployment of Army Reservists and National Guard troops who claim to be or who are accused of being gay. An U.S. Army Forces Command spokesperson said the regulation was intended to prevent Reservists and National Guard members from pretending to be gay to escape combat. Advocates of ending DADT repeatedly publicized discharges of highly trained gay and lesbian personnel, especially those in positions with critical shortages, including fifty-nine Arabic speakers and nine Persian speakers. 

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, later argued that the military's failure to ask about sexual orientation at recruitment was the cause of the discharges: [Y]ou could reduce this number to zero or near zero if the Department of Defense dropped Don't Ask, Don't Tell.... We should not be training people who are not eligible to be in the Armed Forces."

In February 2006, a University of California Blue Ribbon Commission that included Lawrence Korb, a former assistant defense secretary during the Reagan administration, William Perry, Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration, and professors from the United States Military Academy released their assessment of the GAO's analysis of the cost of DADT released a year earlier. The commission report stated that the GAO did not take into account the value the military lost from the departures. They said that that total cost was closer to $363 million, including $14.3 million for "separation travel" following a service member's discharge, $17.8 million for training officers, $252.4 million for training enlistees, and $79.3 million in recruiting costs.

In 2006, Soulforce, a national LGBT rights organization, organized its Right to Serve Campaign, in which gay men and lesbians in several cities attempted to enlist in the Armed Forces or National Guard. Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness stated in September: "I think the people involved here do not have the best interests of the military at heart. They never have. They are promoting an agenda to normalize homosexuality in America using the military as a battering ram to promote that broader agenda." She said that "pro-homosexual activists ... are creating media events all over the country and even internationally."

In 2006, a speaking tour of gay former service members, organized by SLDN, Log Cabin Republicans, and Meehan, visited 18 colleges and universities. Patrick Guerriero, executive director of Log Cabin, thought the repeal movement was gaining "new traction" but "Ultimately", said, "we think it's going to take a Republican with strong military credentials to make a shift in the policy." Elaine Donnelly called such efforts "a big P.R. campaign" and said that "The law is there to protect good order and discipline in the military, and it's not going to change."

In December 2006, Zogby International released the results of a poll of military personnel conducted in October 2006 that found that 26% favored allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, 37% were opposed, while 37% expressed no preference or were unsure. Of respondents who had experience with gay people in their unit, 6% said their presence had a positive impact on their personal morale, 66% said no impact, and 28% said negative impact. Regarding overall unit morale, 3% said positive impact, 64% no impact, and 27% negative impact.

Retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili and former Senator and Secretary of Defense William Cohen opposed the policy in January 2007: "I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces" Shalikashvili wrote. "Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job." Shalikashvili cited the recent "Zogby poll of more than 500 service members returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, three quarters of whom said they were comfortable interacting with gay people. 

The debate took a different turn in March when Gen. Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune he supported DADT because "homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and ... we should not condone immoral acts." His remarks became, according to the Tribune, "a huge news story on radio, television and the Internet during the day and showed how sensitive the Pentagon's policy has become." Sen. John Warner, who backed DADT, said "I respectfully, but strongly, disagree with the chairman's view that homosexuality is immoral", and Pace expressed regret for expressing his personal views and said that DADT "does not make a judgment about the morality of individual acts." Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, then in the early stages of his campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, defended DADT:

When I first heard [the phrase], I thought it sounded silly and I just dismissed it and said, well, that can't possibly work. Well, I sure was wrong. It has worked. It's been in place now for over a decade. The military says it's working and they don't want to change it ... and they're the people closest to the front. We're in the middle of a conflict right now. I would not change it."

That summer, after U.S. senator Larry Craig was arrested for lewd conduct in a men's restroom, conservative commentator Michael Medved argued that any liberalization of DADT would "compromise restroom integrity and security". He wrote: "The national shudder of discomfort and queasiness associated with any introduction of homosexual eroticism into public men's rooms should make us more determined than ever to resist the injection of those lurid attitudes into the even more explosive situation of the U.S. military."

In November 2007, 28 retired generals and admirals urged Congress to repeal the policy, citing evidence that 65,000 gay men and women were serving in the armed forces and that there were over a million gay veterans. On November 17, 2008, 104 retired generals and admirals signed a similar statement. In December, SLDN arranged for 60 Minutes to interview Darren Manzella, an Army medic who served in Iraq after coming out to his unit.

On May 4, 2008, while Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen addressed the graduating cadets at West Point, a cadet asked what would happen if the next administration were supportive of legislation allowing gays to serve openly. Mullen responded, "Congress, and not the military, is responsible for DADT." Previously, during his Senate confirmation hearing in 2007, Mullen told lawmakers, "I really think it is for the American people to come forward, really through this body, to both debate that policy and make changes, if that's appropriate." He went on to say, "I'd love to have Congress make its own decisions" with respect to considering repeal.

In May 2009, when a committee of military law experts at the Palm Center, an anti-DADT research institute, concluded that the President could issue an Executive Order to suspend homosexual conduct discharges, Obama rejected that option and said he wanted Congress to change the law.

On July 5, 2009, Colin Powell told CNN said that the policy was "correct for the time" but that "sixteen years have now gone by, and I think a lot has changed with respect to attitudes within our country, and therefore I think this is a policy and a law that should be reviewed." Interviewed for the same broadcast, Mullen said the policy would continue to be implemented until the law was repealed, and that his advice was to "move in a measured way.... At a time when we're fighting two conflicts there is a great deal of pressure on our forces and their families." In September, Joint Force Quarterly published an article by an Air Force colonel that disputed the argument that unit cohesion is compromised by the presence of openly gay personnel.

In October 2009, the Commission on Military Justice, known as the Cox Commission, repeated its 2001 recommendation that Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which bans sodomy, be repealed, noting that "most acts of consensual sodomy committed by consenting military personnel are not prosecuted, creating a perception that prosecution of this sexual behavior is arbitrary."

In January 2010, the White House and congressional officials started work on repealing the ban by inserting language into the 2011 defense authorization bill. During Obama's State of the Union Address on January 27, 2010, he said that he would work with Congress and the military to enact a repeal of the gay ban law and for the first time set a timetable for repeal.

At a February 2, 2010, congressional hearing, Senator John McCain read from a letter signed by "over one thousand former general and flag officers". It said: "We firmly believe that this law, which Congress passed to protect good order, discipline and morale in the unique environment of the armed forces, deserves continued support." The signature campaign had been organized by Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness, a longtime supporter of a traditional all-male and all-heterosexual military. Servicemembers United, a veterans group opposed to DADT, issued a report critical of the letter's legitimacy. They said that among those signing the letter were officers who had no knowledge of their inclusion or who had refused to be included, and even one instance of a general's widow who signed her husband's name to the letter though he had died before the survey was published. The average age of the officers whose names were listed as signing the letter was 74, the oldest was 98, and Servicemembers United noted that "only a small fraction of these officers have even served in the military during the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' period, much less in the 21st century military." 

That same month, the Human Rights Campaign, otherwise known as the HRC, launched its "Repeal DADT Now Campaign" to mobilize grassroots support and target swing states.

The Center for American Progress issued a report in March 2010 that said a smooth implementation of an end to DADT required eight specified changes to the military's internal regulations. On March 25, 2010, Defense Secretary Gates announced new rules mandating that only flag officers could initiate discharge proceedings and imposing more stringent rules of evidence on discharge proceedings.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell (Part 3)

Don't Ask, Don't Tell (Part 3)

Don't Ask, Don't Tell (Part 1)

Don't Ask, Don't Tell (Part 1)