“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — On, Off, On Again, Off Again, Back On Again

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The 1st Armored Division in Weisbaden, Germany / Air Force photo by Wayne Clark

In a turnabout, apparently initiated by the Obama administration, the ban on gays serving openly in the military — “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — is back on the books. After having been rescinded by Congress in December, gay rights groups celebrated their long-overdue victory. But then it became bogged down by a Defense Department study required by Congress to figure out the impact ending the ban will have on the military.

I can tell you what impact it will have on the military: none. I can say this with confidence because I have been in a similar situation — as one of the Navy’s first female divers.

Our allies in NATO, Australia, Israel, and elsewhere have had gays serving openly in their military services for years. When the policies changed in these countries there was the usual brouhaha about the impact the change would have on the military…but…there was no impact. And why should it have had an impact? Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines continued to do their job without impairing military effectiveness. There was no great exodus of straight men out of the military, and the fear of homosexual sexual assault on straight men? Overblown.

So, not only do we work with our fully integrated allies on a regular basis in the war zones and in training exercises, but in our own country we work with gays and lesbians daily. Though they cannot be open about their sexuality, I would bet that it is fairly well known who “is”, and who “isn’t”. It is not an issue, except in the minds of some of our military leaders, both active and retired, who have forgotten what it is like for troops on the deck-plate level.

The fears that accompany the announcement are very familiar to women who integrated the operational forces of the military in the late 20th century. I know, because I lived it as a young woman entering the diving community in the early 1980s. There is the fear of lack of privacy; of “false” rape accusations; of wives who feared us women would “steal” their husbands; and of increased sexual assault and harassment (which, unfortunately, has proven to be true).

However, the folks doing the sexual assaults and harassment are not the women, nor are they gay and lesbian members who are currently serving incognito. They tend to be our white male brethren, who seem to think that the world — and all its contents — revolve around them. Heaven forbid there be a change. Heaven forbid the military embrace diversity. Heaven forbid the military moves out of the 19th century mindset to finally embrace 21st century realities.

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made it clear in February 2010 when he made a profound statement: “No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.” Let’s move on and let our military members live the democratic lifestyle they are protecting. And let’s do it sooner rather than later.