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

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

Hey everyone, welcome to the podcast. This week’s episode closes out a 3-episode arc covering Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. We’re going to cover the eventual repeal of the policy, and uncover some of the societal attitudes—particularly how they’ve shifted over the years. 

The underlying justifications for DADT have been subjected to increasing suspicion and outright rejection by the early 21st century. Mounting evidence obtained from the integration efforts of foreign militaries, surveys of U.S. military personnel, and studies conducted by the DoD  gave credence to the view that the presence of open homosexuals within the military would not be detrimental at all to the armed forces. A DoD study conducted on the behest of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in 2010 supports this most.

The DoD working group conducting the study considered the impact that lifting the ban would have on unit cohesion and effectiveness, good order and discipline, and military morale. The study included a survey that revealed significant differences between respondents who believed they had served with homosexual troops and those who did not believe they had.In analyzing such data, the DoD working group concluded that it was actually generalized perceptions of homosexual troops that led to the perceived unrest that would occur without DADT. Ultimately, the study deemed the overall risk to military effectiveness of lifting the ban to be low. Citing the ability of the armed forces to adjust to the previous integration of African-Americans and women, the DoD study asserted that the United States military could adjust as had it before in history without an impending serious effect.

In March 2005, Rep. Martin T. Meehan introduced the Military Readiness Enhancement Act in the House. It aimed "to amend title 10, United States Code, to enhance the readiness of the Armed Forces by replacing the current policy concerning homosexuality in the Armed Forces, referred to as 'Don't ask, don't tell,' with a policy of nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation". As of 2006, it had 105 Democrats and 4 Republicans as co-sponsors. He introduced the bill again in 2007 and 2009.

During the 2008 presidential election campaign, Senator Barack Obama advocated a full repeal of the laws barring gays and lesbians from serving in the military. Nineteen days after his election, Obama's advisers announced that plans to repeal the policy might be delayed until 2010, because Obama "first wants to confer with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his new political appointees at the Pentagon to reach a consensus, and then present legislation to Congress". As president he advocated a policy change to allow gay personnel to serve openly in the armed forces, stating that the U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops expelled from the military, including language experts fluent in Arabic, because of DADT. On the eve of the National Equality March in Washington, D.C., October 10, 2009, Obama stated in a speech before the Human Rights Campaign that he would end the ban, but he offered no timetable. Obama said in his 2010 State of the Union Address: "This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are." This statement was quickly followed up by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen voicing their support for a repeal of DADT.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010

Democrats in both houses of Congress first attempted to end DADT by amending the Defense Authorization Act. On May 27, 2010, on a 234–194 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Murphy amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011. It provided for repeal of the DADT policy and created a process for lifting the policy, including a U.S. Department of Defense study and certification by key officials that the change in policy would not harm military readiness followed by a waiting period of 60 days. The amended defense bill passed the House on May 28, 2010. On September 21, 2010, John McCain led a successful filibuster against the debate on the Defense Authorization Act, in which 56 Senators voted to end debate, four short of the 60 votes required. Some advocates for repeal, including the Palm Center, OutServe, and Knights Out, opposed any attempt to block the passage of NDAA if it failed to include DADT repeal language. The Human Rights Campaign, the Center for American Progress, Servicemembers United and SLDN refused to concede that possibility.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit, Collins v. United States, against the Department of Defense in November 2010 seeking full compensation for those discharged under the policy.

On November 30, 2010, the Joint Chiefs of Staff released the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Comprehensive Review Working Group (CRWG) report authored by Jeh C. Johnson, General Counsel of the Department of Defense, and Army General Carter F. Ham. It outlined a path to the implementation of repeal of DADT. The report indicated that there was a low risk of service disruptions due to repealing the ban, provided time was provided for proper implementation and training. It included the results of a survey of 115,000 active-duty and reserve service members. Across all service branches, 30 percent thought that integrating gays into the military would have negative consequences. In the Marine Corps and combat specialties, the percentage with that negative assessment ranged from 40 to 60 percent. The CRWG also said that 69 percent of all those surveyed believed they had already worked with a gay or lesbian and of those, 92 percent reported that the impact of that person's presence was positive or neutral. 

The same day, in response to the CRWG, 30 professors and scholars, most from military institutions, issued a joint statement saying that the CRWG "echoes more than 20 studies, including studies by military researchers, all of which reach the same conclusion: allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly will not harm the military .... We hope that our collective statement underscores that the debate about the evidence is now officially over...." The Family Research Council's president, Tony Perkins, interpreted the CRWG data differently, writing that it "reveals that 40 percent of Marines and 25 percent of the Army could leave".

Gates encouraged Congress to act quickly to repeal the law so that the military could carefully adjust rather than face a court decision requiring it to lift the policy immediately. The United States Senate held two days of hearings on December 2 and 3, 2010, to consider the CRWG report. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen urged immediate repeal. The heads of the Marine Corps, Army, and Navy all advised against immediate repeal and expressed varied views on its eventual repeal. Oliver North, writing in National Review the next week, said that Gates' testimony showed "a deeply misguided commitment to political correctness". He interpreted the CRWG's data as indicating a high risk that large numbers of resignations would follow the repeal of DADT. Service members, especially combat troops, he wrote, "deserve better than to be treated like lab rats in Mr. Obama's radical social experiment".

On December 9, 2010, another filibuster prevented debate on the Defense Authorization Act. In response to that vote, Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins introduced a bill that included the policy-related portions of the Defense Authorization Act that they considered more likely to pass as a stand-alone bill. It passed the House on a vote of 250 to 175 on December 15, 2010. On December 18, 2010, the Senate voted to end debate on its version of the bill by a cloture vote of 63–33. The final Senate vote was held later that same day, with the measure passing by a vote of 65–31.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates released a statement following the vote indicating that the planning for implementation of a policy repeal would begin right away and would continue until Gates certified that conditions were met for orderly repeal of the policy. President Obama signed the repeal into law on December 22, 2010.

Implementation of repeal

The repeal act established a process for ending the DADT policy. The President, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were required to certify in writing that they had reviewed the Pentagon's report on the effects of DADT repeal, that the appropriate regulations had been reviewed and drafted, and that implementation of repeal regulations "is consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces". Once certification was given, DADT would be lifted after a 60-day waiting period.

Representative Duncan D. Hunter announced plans in January 2011 to introduce a bill designed to delay the end of DADT. His proposed legislation required all of the chiefs of the armed services to submit the certification at the time required only of the President, Defense Secretary and Joint Chiefs Chairman. In April, Perkins of the Family Research Council argued that the Pentagon was misrepresenting its own survey data and that hearings by the House Armed Services Committee, now under Republican control, could persuade Obama to withhold certification. Congressional efforts to prevent the change in policy from going into effect continued into May and June 2011.

On January 29, 2011, Pentagon officials stated that the training process to prepare troops for the end of DADT would begin in February and would proceed quickly, though they suggested that it might not be completed in 2011. On the same day, the DOD announced it would not offer any additional compensation to service members who had been discharged under DADT, who received half of the separation pay other honorably discharged service members received.

In May 2011, the U.S. Army reprimanded three colonels for performing a skit in March 2011 at a function at Yongsan Garrison, South Korea, that mocked the repeal.

In May 2011, revelations that an April Navy memo relating to its DADT training guidelines contemplated allowing same-sex weddings in base chapels and allowing chaplains to officiate if they so chose resulted in a letter of protest from 63 Republican congressman, citing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as controlling the use of federal property. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said the guidelines "make it even more uncomfortable for men and women of faith to perform their duties". A Pentagon spokesperson replied that DOMA "does not limit the type of religious ceremonies a chaplain may perform in a chapel on a military installation", and a Navy spokesperson said that "A chaplain can conduct a same-sex ceremony if it is in the tenets of his faith". A few days later the Navy rescinded its earlier instructions "pending additional legal and policy review and interdepartmental coordination".

While waiting for certification, several service members were discharged at their own insistence until a July 6 ruling from a federal appeals court barred further enforcement of the U.S. military's ban on openly gay service members, which the military promptly did.

Anticipating the lifting of DADT, some active duty service members wearing civilian clothes marched in San Diego's gay pride parade on July 16. The DOD noted that participation "does not constitute a declaration of sexual orientation".

President Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent the certification required by the Repeal Act to Congress on July 22, 2011, setting the end of DADT for September 20, 2011. A Pentagon spokesman said that service members discharged under DADT would be able to re-apply to rejoin the military then.

At the end of August 2011, the DOD approved the distribution of the magazine produced by OutServe, an organization of gay and lesbian service members, at Army and Air Force base exchanges beginning with the September 20 issue, coinciding with the end of DADT.

On September 20, Air force officials announced that 22 Air Force Instructions were "updated as a result of the repeal of DADT". On September 30, 2011, the Department of Defense modified regulations to reflect the repeal by deleting "homosexual conduct" as a ground for administrative separation.

Day of repeal and aftermath

On the eve of repeal, US Air Force 1st Lt. Josh Seefried, one of the founders of OutServe, an organization of LGBT troops, revealed his identity after two years of hiding behind a pseudonym. Senior Airman Randy Phillips, after conducting a social media campaign seeking encouragement coming out and already out to his military co-workers, came out to his father on the evening of September 19. When the video of their conversation he posted on YouTube went viral, it made him, in one journalist's estimation, "the poster boy for the DADT repeal". The moment the repeal took effect at midnight on September 19, US Navy Lt. Gary C. Ross married his same-sex partner of eleven and a half years Dan Swezy, making them the first same-sex military couple to legally marry in the United States. 

Retired Rear Adm. Alan S. Steinman became the highest-ranking person to come out immediately following the end of DADT. HBO produced a documentary, The Strange History of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and premiered it on September 20. Variety called it "an unapologetic piece of liberal advocacy" and "a testament to what formidable opponents ignorance and prejudice can be".

Discharge proceedings on the grounds of homosexuality, some begun years earlier, came to an end.

In the weeks that followed, a series of firsts attracted press attention to the impact of the repeal. Reservist Jeremy Johnson became the first person discharged under DADT to re-enlist. Jase Daniels became the first to return to active duty, re-joining the Navy as a third class petty officer.

On December 2, Air Force intelligence officer Ginger Wallace became the first open LGBT service member to have a same-sex partner participate in the "pinning-on" ceremony that marked her promotion to colonel. On December 23, after 80 days at sea, US Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta won the right to the traditional "first kiss" upon returning to port and shared it with her same-sex partner. Her ship's commanding officer, in one report, "said that the crew's reaction upon learning who was selected to have the first kiss after a raffle was positive". On January 20, 2012, U.S. service members deployed to Bagram, Afghanistan, produced a video in support of the It Gets Better Project, which aims to support LGBT at-risk youth. Widespread news coverage continued even months after the repeal date, when a photograph of Marine Sgt. Brandon Morgan kissing his partner at a February 22, 2012, homecoming celebration on Marine Corps Base Hawaii went viral. When asked for her comment, a spokesperson for the Marine Corps said: "It's your typical homecoming photo."

On September 30, 2011, Under Secretary of Defense Clifford Stanley announced the DOD's policy that military chaplains are allowed to perform same-sex marriages "on or off a military installation" where local law permits them. His memo noted that "a chaplain is not required to participate in or officiate a private ceremony if doing so would be in variance with the tenets of his or her religion" and "a military chaplain's participation in a private ceremony does not constitute an endorsement of the ceremony by DoD". Some religious groups announced that their chaplains would not participate in such weddings, including an organization of evangelical Protestants, the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty and Roman Catholics led by Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA.

In late October 2011, speaking at the Air Force Academy, Col. Gary Packard, leader of the team that drafted the DOD's repeal implementation plan, said: "The best quote I've heard so far is, 'Well, some people's Facebook status changed, but that was about it.'" In late November, discussing the repeal of DADT and its implementation, Marine Gen. James F. Amos said "I'm very pleased with how it has gone" and called it a "non-event". He said his earlier public opposition was appropriate based on ongoing combat operations and the negative assessment of the policy given by 56% of combat troops under his command in the Department of Defense's November 2010 survey. A Defense Department spokesperson said implementation of repeal occurred without incident and added: "We attribute this success to our comprehensive pre-repeal training program, combined with the continued close monitoring and enforcement of standards by our military leaders at all levels."

In December 2011, Congress considered two DADT-related amendments in the course of work on the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012. The Senate approved 97-3, an amendment removing the prohibition on sodomy found in Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice as recommended by the Comprehensive Review Working Group (CRWG) a year earlier. The House approved an amendment banning same-sex marriages from being performed at military bases or by military employees, including chaplains and other employees of the military when "acting in an official capacity". Neither amendment appeared in the final legislation.

In July 2012 the Department of Defense granted permission for military personnel to wear their uniforms while participating in the San Diego Pride Parade. This was the first time that U.S. military personnel were permitted to wear their service uniforms in such a parade.

Marking the first anniversary of the passage of the Repeal Act, television news networks reported no incidents in the three months since DADT ended. One aired video of a social gathering for gay service members at a base in Afghanistan. Another reported on the experience of lesbian and gay troops, including some rejection after coming out to colleagues.

The Palm Center, a think tank that studies issues of sexuality and the military, released a study in September 2012 that found no negative consequences, nor any effect on military effectiveness from DADT repeal. This study began six months following repeal and concluded at the one year mark. The study included surveys of 553 generals and admirals who had opposed repeal, experts who supported DADT, and more than 60 heterosexual, gay, lesbian and bisexual active duty service personnel.

On January 7, 2013, the ACLU reached a settlement with the federal government in Collins v. United States. It provided for the payment of full separation pay to service members discharged under DADT since November 10, 2004, who had previously been granted only half that.

2012 presidential campaign issue

Several candidates for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination called for the restoration of DADT, including Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum. Newt Gingrich called for an extensive review of DADT's repeal.

Ron Paul, having voted for the Repeal Act, maintained his support for allowing military service by open homosexuals. Herman Cain called the issue "a distraction" and opposed reinstating DADT. Mitt Romney said that the winding down of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan obviated his opposition to the repeal and said he was not proposing any change to policy.

On September 22, 2011, the audience at a Republican candidates' debate booed a U.S. soldier posted in Iraq who asked a question via video about the repeal of DADT, and none of the candidates noticed or responded to the crowd's behavior. Two days later, Obama commented on the incident while addressing a dinner of the Human Rights Campaign: "You want to be commander in chief? You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it's not politically convenient".

In June 2012, Rep. Howard McKeon, Republican chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said he considered the repeal of DADT a settled issue and if Romney became president would not advocate its reinstatement, though others in his party might.

Views of the policy

Public opinion

According to a December 2010 Washington Post-ABC News poll 77% of Americans said gays and lesbians who publicly disclose their sexual orientation should be able to serve in the military. That number showed little change from polls over the previous two years, but represented the highest level of support in a Post-ABC poll. The support also cut across partisan and ideological lines, with majorities of Democrats (86%), Republicans (74%), independents (74%), liberals (92%), conservatives (67%), white evangelical Protestants (70%) and non-religious (84%) in favor of homosexuals serving openly.

A November 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 58% of the U.S. public favored allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, while less than half as many (27%) were opposed. According to a November 2010 CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, 72% of adult Americans favored permitting people who are openly gay or lesbian to serve in the military, while 23% opposed it. "The main difference between the CNN poll and the Pew poll is in the number of respondents who told pollsters that they didn't have an opinion on this topic – 16 percent in the Pew poll compared to only five percent in the CNN survey", said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "The two polls report virtually the same number who say they oppose gays serving openly in the military, which suggests that there are some people who favor that change in policy but for some reason were reluctant to admit that to the Pew interviewers. That happens occasionally on topics where moral issues and equal-treatment issues intersect."

A February 2010 Quinnipiac University Polling Institute national poll showed 57% of American voters favored gays serving openly, compared to 36% opposed, while 66% said not allowing openly gay personnel to serve is discrimination, compared to 31% who did not see it as discrimination. A CBS News/New York Times national poll done at the same time showed 58% of Americans favored gays serving openly, compared to 28% opposed.\

Chaplains and religious groups

Chaplain groups and religious organizations took various positions on DADT. Some felt that the policy needed to be withdrawn to make the military more inclusive. The Southern Baptist Convention battled the repeal of DADT, warning that their endorsements for chaplains might be withdrawn if the repeal took place. They took the position that allowing gay men and women to serve in the military without restriction would have a negative impact on the ability of chaplains who think homosexuality is a sin to speak freely regarding their religious beliefs. The Roman Catholic Church called for the retention of the policy, but had no plans to withdraw its priests from serving as military chaplains. Sixty-five retired chaplains signed a letter opposing repeal, stating that repeal would make it impossible for chaplains whose faith teaches that same-sex behavior is immoral to minister to military service members. Other religious organizations and agencies called the repeal of the policy a "non-event" or "non-issue" for chaplains, claiming that chaplains have always supported military service personnel, whether or not they agree with all their actions or beliefs.

Discharges under DADT

After the policy was introduced in 1993, the military discharged over 13,000 troops from the military under DADT. The number of discharges per fiscal year under DADT dropped sharply after the September 11 attacks and remained comparatively low through to the repeal. Discharges exceeded 600 every year until 2009.

The Transgender Ban in the Trump Administration

On 26 July 2017, US President Donald Trump announced that transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve in the US military. The following day, General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that openly transgender people will continue to be allowed to serve until Trump provides direction to defense secretary James Mattis. 

On 1 August, the Palm Center released a letter signed by 56 retired generals and admirals, opposing the proposed ban on transgender military service members. The letter stated that if implemented, the ban "would cause significant disruptions, deprive the military of mission-critical talent and compromise the integrity of transgender troops who would be forced to live a lie, as well as non-transgender peers who would be forced to choose between reporting their comrades or disobeying policy". On 9 August, five transgender United States military personnel sued Trump and top Pentagon officials over the proposed banning of transgender people from serving in the military. The suit asks the court to prevent the ban from going into effect. Two major LGBT-rights organizations filed a petition in the United States District Court in Washington on behalf of the five transgender servicemembers.

On 25 August, Trump signed a presidential memorandum directing the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security to submit an implementation plan on how to reinstate the ban by February 21, 2018. On October 30, 2017, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly barred the administration from excluding transgender people from military service, but did not address whether federal funds should be used to pay for sex reassignment surgery for service members.

Obviously, we live in an atmosphere right now where things can change on a dime; we’ll continue to monitor the situation and update when appropriate.

[Music Out]

Thank you for listening to the Mattachine Podcast.  This episode was researched, narrated, and produced by Brad Dunshee—yours truly.  Our logo was designed by Matt Smith. 

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In an ongoing effort to bring you fresh LGBT stories week after week, please email us at mattachinepod@gmail.com with episode suggestions.  We’ll do our best to get these into the editorial calendar.  

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

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