by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is dead & in 60 days, that is. The repeal is no longer an 'if,' and the question of 'when' has been answered. Victory, at this point, is ours.
Although the repeal of DADT is unquestionably a win for the LGBT community, the real winners are the brave men and women of the U.S. armed forces. In fact, this couldn't have happened without them.
There is no question about it, Americans were done with the debate over DADT by January 2011. Aside from your run-of-the-mill crackpot right-winger, most people began to see DADT for what it was: a discriminatory policy that hurt the armed services rather than helped it. Poll after poll told the president and the Pentagon alike that the time for repeal was now.
The problem? 'Now' is not a word that the courts or Congress understand. The system is just not set up that way. No matter how much we all would have liked to see DADT written off immediately, history will show Obama did it right. Yes, the Department of Justice continued to protect it. Yes, the Pentagon still processed discharges even after Obama told them to repeal the outdated law. But in the end, it was his savvy decision to meet and work out a plan with Pentagon officials that would ultimately destroy DADT once and for all.
When the Pentagon surveyed the troops, many of us scratched our heads and asked, 'What are they up to?' After all, it is uncommon to ask the enlisted soldier how he feels about, well, anything. The service runs as a dictatorship, not a democracy; he who has the most rank holds the law of the land. A simple 'roger that' or 'aye, aye' is all that is required of the newly commissioned officer or enlisted man.
But this was different. DADT struck a chord, not only with service men and women, but with America. Social change was blowing in, and the service chiefs could feel it. So they set out to ask the troops (deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as at home) and their families, 'Is the DoD ready to be Gay friendly?'
The troops and their spouses answered back with a resounding 'yes.' And, without being too poetic, that's all she wrote. You see, as a 10-year Navy veteran, I can tell you with a degree of certainty that had those survey results come back with the troops saying DADT repeal would have a negative impact, the president could've moaned and complained all he wanted to, but those service chiefs wouldn't have budged an inch.
But that didn't happen. The troops, Gay and straight, said in very clear terms, 'It's time for DADT to go.'
And so it has. As we watch the clock wind down on the remaining days of a law that will be looked upon poorly by U.S. history, we should know that this is a victory that will have positive ramifications for the modern Gay rights movement that we don't yet see. One that comes to mind is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
The U.S. military is a huge employer in our nation, and it has just gone Gay. This will be looked at closely by lawmakers who are championing a federal ENDA. While it may be true that the service is not yet Transgender-inclusive, there is no doubt in my mind that those days are coming. The LGB service member might soon be the LGBT service member, once the dialogue and debate surrounding gender transformation and military service is satisfied. Still, Trans non-inclusive and all, it is a win for us to allow LGB men and women to serve openly, and that is not something that should be discredited.
And then there is that pesky federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). It creeps into our lives - and victories - time and time again. This is a complicated one for the Pentagon because now they are faced with defending the decision not to award spousal benefits to same-sex spouses of military members due to DOMA. While the federal government argues about keeping their nose out of the business of each state, the Pentagon does not have that luxury. The way top brass sees it, they have to uphold federal law on military installations. The repeal of DADT has opened up the dialogue for debate, and just like Transgender military service, I believe we will also see (in a year or so) the Pentagon awarding benefits to spouses of Gay and Lesbian service members. The dominos are beginning to fall & finally.
On September 20, when DADT is laid to rest, the worst thing we, as a community, can do is bicker over what we don't have. Instead, we should celebrate the victory for what it is.
If there is an LGB servicemember or veteran in your life, thank them for their service and congratulate them on being a part of history and celebrating in freedom - likewise for a heterosexual service member, as they were the ones in a strong majority that told the Pentagon to send DADT to the brig.
This victory may not be complete, and we should still fight (and we will) for full equality in the ranks, but let's not let that stop us from enjoying the win we did get: DADT is dead.
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