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Archive for Wednesday, September 21, 2011

U.S. military marks milestone with end of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy

September 21, 2011

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— The U.S. military passed a historic milestone Tuesday with the repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in uniform, ending a prohibition that President Barack Obama said had forced gay and lesbian service members to “lie about who they are.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pledged not to allow other issues of equal opportunity, such as allowing women to serve in combat roles, to be ignored or set aside.

“I am committed to removing all of the barriers that would prevent Americans from serving their country and from rising to the highest level of responsibility that their talents and capabilities warrant,” Panetta told a Pentagon news conference. “These are men and women who put their lives on the line in the defense of this country, and that’s what should matter the most.”

Repeal of the 18-year-old legal provision — commonly known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” under which gays can serve as long as they don’t openly acknowledge their sexual orientation — took effect Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. EDT.

Appearing with Panetta for what was probably his final news Pentagon conference as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retiring Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said that with the new law allowing gays to serve openly, the military is a stronger, more tolerant force with greater character and honor.

“I still believe that it was first and foremost a matter of integrity, that it was fundamentally against everything we stand for as an institution to force people to lie about who they are just to wear a uniform,” Mullen said. “We are better than that.”

Some in Congress still oppose the change, arguing that it may undermine order and discipline, but top Pentagon leaders have certified that it will not hurt the military’s ability to recruit or to fight wars.

Obama issued a statement saying he is confident that lifting the ban will enhance U.S. national security, that henceforth “our armed forces will no longer lose the extraordinary skills and combat experience of so many gay and lesbian service members.”

Later Tuesday, at a New York City Democratic fundraiser, the president said he had met backstage with some young Americans who had been discharged from the military because of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

“As of today, that will never happen again,” Obama said. “As of today, no one needs to hide who they are to serve the country that they love.”

The head of Pentagon personnel policies issued a memo to the work force at a minute after midnight Tuesday. “All service members are to treat one another with dignity and respect regardless of sexual orientation,” the memo from Clifford Stanley said.

A lingering question is whether disciplinary procedures are adequate to deal with any future instances of harassment of gays in the ranks. Michael Corgan, a professor of international relations at Boston University and a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, said it’s mainly a matter of leadership.

“Discipline problems that might arise from gays serving with an overwhelmingly straight population in the military should be able to be handled the way any other disciplinary problems are, if commanders are up to their jobs,” Corgan said.

In Iraq, a spokesman for U.S forces put out a statement noting that all troops there had been trained for the change.

For weeks the military services have accepted applications from openly gay recruits, while waiting for repeal to take effect before processing the applications.

With the lifting of the ban, the Defense Department published revised regulations to reflect the new law allowing gays to serve openly. The revisions, such as eliminating references to banned homosexual service, are in line with policy guidance that was issued by top Pentagon officials in January, after Obama signed the legislation that did away with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

The lifting of the 18-year-old ban also halted all pending investigations, discharges and other administrative proceedings that were begun under the Clinton-era law.

Comments

jaywalker 3 years, 3 months ago

"A lingering question is whether disciplinary procedures are adequate to deal with any future instances of harassment of gays in the ranks."

Discipline for inevitable harassment isn't my worry. It's the almost certain assaults and, heaven forbid, murders that concern me. Homophobia is pretty common among alpha males. On the one hand I'm glad to see more barriers coming down, we need this sort of progress. But on the other I'm afraid of the repercussions and retributions that will ensue.

I sincerely hope I'm 100% wrong.

voevoda 3 years, 3 months ago

jaywalker, BornAgainAmerican, I think that you are doing a disservice to our men and women (especially men) in the armed forces in assuming that they will violate orders and inflict physical harm on their fellow service personnel. Most of our servicemembers are serious professionals who will follow orders and maintain discipline, regardless of what they might think privately. If the military commanders make clear that service members who mistreat their fellows because of their sexual orientation will face serious penalties or court-martial, even those few who are inclined to express homophobia in an aggressive manner will restrain themselves.

beatrice 3 years, 3 months ago

There is often resistance to change. Yes, there were times when people were harrassed after minorities were allowed to serve alongside whites in the military, and there likely will be a instances of people acting out against others over this latest change. However, in the end it will all settle and people will learn to adjust. We can't base our laws on who might be harrassed. Instead, it must be on preventing those who will do the harrassing.

As we do today when it comes to desegregation, in the future we will look back at this and wonder how we could have ever been so accepting of discrimination in the first place.

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