Why ending DADT must wait

Earlier last month, when the Obama administration decided to challenge a ruling that effectively stopped Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, I was critical of it for not being in touch with the American public and its liberal voting base. I was wrong. After giving the issue much deeper thoughts, I’ve come to the conclusion that the White House, from both a practical and intellectual perspective, did the right thing.

In short, DADT must and will end – for a myriad of reasons that have been succinctly argued by LGBT advocates, but it must be ended via the proper channels, and more importantly, ended with everything considered, and the proper pieces put in place to support LGBT servicemembers. Unlike the corporate world – the military isn’t a business, it’s an organization in which everyone has a responsibility toward one another – and such great responsibilities cannot be met without carefully examiming all concerns relating to the well-being of gay servicemembers.

To be sure – I support gay rights, as I always have – and it is in this spirit that I stand against ending the policy as we speak. I do not take such a stand as a way to impede upon the rights of LGBT servicemembers, or to, as many have accused the White House of doing, hold the LGBT community as political hostages. I take such a stand because my experiences in the military point to one thing: the military is not logistically ready to cater to and best serve gay soldiers.

Separate but equal isn’t equal, and neither is saying a particular group is equal, yet lacking the foundations to help it succeed. As of today, if DADT were to end, young sergeants who are responsible for the training, mentoring, development and welfare of soldiers would not have the skills to work with LGBT members. This is not because gay soldiers are inherently different than straight soldiers, but because they possess different lived-experiences, and thus, have different social needs.

Too many times, young NCOs have to help soldiers deal with personal matters – matters that involve their private lives and navigate them toward the right way. Yet, without any formal training, how are young NCOs supposed to do that, with the confidence they are doing what is best for their soldiers? The same concept also applies for chaplains and community service personnel, especially trained with helping soldiers with couples counselings. Until those personnel are trained and ready, having gay soldiers serve openly without systems of support in place is not fair for said soldiers, and is a profound neglect of leadership that every soldier deserves. More specifically, my point is that it is Congress who puts these plans in place, a ruling by a judge on whether DADT is constitutional is simply not good enough. If we’re going to do this, we must do it correctly.

There are also issues of including gay soldiers – and their needs and concerns – into yearly training, to include prevention of sexual harrassment and assault training. At the current moment, said training is heterosexually-focused, and leaves out a great many situations and problems found within the LGBT community. Until the program is overhauled and changed to include gay soldiers, it is impractical for end DADT.

Then, there is also the matter of medical care and support. Are the training given soldiers including facts about high-risk sexual behaviors as well as safer sex? At the moment, while condoms are widely available on base, what is not available are frank and honest discussions, led by qualified healthcare professionals, regarding the sexual health of soldiers. I take this stand not as an attack on the LGBT community, but rather, because I realize that behind all the talks of celebrating love and respecting all relationships, young soldiers will have sex, whether gay or straight, and the issue must be taken head-on, to protect the health of America’s fighting forces.

Another issue to consider: how to smoothly end the policy without disengaging the soldiers who already have negative perceptions of the LGBT community? It’s easy, of course, to say that soldiers should leave the military if they do not like it. But said sentiments are extremely impractical, and further, will create a wedge between soldiers who support LGBT rights and those who do not. In the end, leaders must have an opportunity to hash out, discuss and put in place the tools neccesary to ensure the transition is a smooth one, for all soldiers. In the end, policies are made via possibilities, rather than what is desired. Such is the case here. Every LGBT supporter may want to end the DADT now, but ending it without a network of support is still as problematic as DADT on its own.

Matters of equality need to also be discussed – does the end of DADT mean the Equal Opportunity Office will include the history of gay persons and achievements as parts of its monthly celebration? If so, to whom should it turn for guidance, and to which extent should be celebrate? Equal Opportunity celebrations within the military are dictated by the law, and thus, the law must also be clear on why, where and when – or if at all – gay rights and histories should be celebrated within the military.

Lastly, there is the issue of the law – while I will leave the judiciary argument for Time Magazine, which did a wonderful job at arguing why a challenge from the Obama administration was important, from a precedence and future cases view points, what I want to focus on are the laws of entitlement. In the states in which LGBT members are allowed to get married, what are their entitlements and benefits within the military, especially for Guard members, who are from those states? Are they entitled to separation pay during combat? Are they entitled to married persons’ rates of housing allowances? In cases of serious injuries, who gets to make the decisions that affect their lives? Will gay marriage only be recognized in duty stations or Guard units in which the state recognizes gay marriage?

These questions, and so many more, regarding how to best serve gay soldiers, must be answered before DADT is ended. We all want to see gay servicemembers get the same rights as the rest of us, but we must also do so correctly, and dot all our I’s and cross our T’s, for if we do not, we’ll create a generation of soldiers who are equal, but on paper only.

Thus the goal of the Obama White House must be, at the moment, ordering studies – as he has done, and to put plans in place, creating Standing Operating Procedures and programs, to let LGBT members serve openly. Only after those plans have been satisfactory shown to be beneficial to LGBT servicemembers should DADT be repealed.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell must end, but only in due time, for if we end it now, we run the risk of handing gay Americans freedoms, but not benefits and entitlements they need to succeed. Freedom without support is not – just ask the millions of Southern slaves who were freed, yet received nothing to help them achieve true freedom.

Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/bookaholic/ bookaholic

    I found your arguments well reasoned and largely agree with your conclusions, but would suggest that you include the need to combat the institutionalised homophobia which currently infests the military. There are two posts I found interesting on the subject recently at autostraddle, and include links for your convenience. I have taken the liberty of linking the discussion there with your post here.


  • sunset

    I don’t think any of that will change until DADT ends. As long as the military is still not allowing gays openly, they won’t develop training or services for them. Ending DADT is the only way to get the ball rolling to get the things you’re looking for implemented, because with it still in place no one has any reason to implement them.

  • http://feministing.com/members/cheminist/ CEK

    I see your point, I think we all want the military to quickly be converted into a LGBT-friendly organization, with all the correct training and support for members of all orientations.

    I do feel as though your arguments imply that there are no gay service members in our armed forces right now. The fact that DADT exists allows gay men and women to serve, but forces them to lie about their lives and themselves and to do so in an organization that doesn’t take into account LGBT issues at all. Our gay servicemembers get none of the services and entitlements you are calling for above, repealing DADT would allow them to speak up and ask for these things without being kicked out of the military.

    Repealing DADT would not cause an influx of gay service members. They are already serving out country, and we need to let them do so openly so that they can fully live their lives to the high personal conduct standards that the military demands.

    Additionally, for many gay service members, their sexual orientation is suspected or de facto known by their peers and superiors and this knowledge is used to blackmail them to “volunteer” for extra combat tours. I haven’t seen any media coverage on this, possibly because the victims of this blackmail cannot bring attention to this without losing their livlihoods.

    So overall, I think you make good points about the services and entitlements that LGBT servicemembers should get, but I think you overlook the fact that we have many gay men and women serving our country now, and the least we could do is let them speak openly about themselves and about how the military should address their needs.

  • marc

    CEK – got your point – I totally do, but I’ve got to correct one thing, because I think it’s dangerous for us to spread unsubstatiated rumors – no one in the military is doing any extra deployments because their sexual orientation is in question. In fact, we in the military view deployments as a sort of badge of courage and embrace them, only if for the simple reason that they are a great career-enhancer. My point is, while there are discriminations going on against LGBT service women and men, it’s not gotten to that point, and quite frankly, because of the checks and balances, it becomes impossible for a mid-level soldier to send someone to war because of perceived homosexuality – and generals, quite honestly, are too busy to give a damn.

    That said, I want to address the crux of your points. Yes, there are LGBT service women and men currently in the military, and they must be able to serve openly. My problem is this: while we can legislatively end DADT and put programs in place at the same time, we cannot do so with courts ruling DADT unconstitutional. The military is a machine – a very slow moving one, and unless soldiers truly speak up, which they do not, out of perception of being entitled and whiny, they’re not going to get what they should be afforded – gay or straight.

    Thus, it is important that civilian leaders take responsibility in doing so. We can kill two birds with one stone by passing legislations that inclue language and requirements that’ll give LGBT service women and men the services they need. As a straight soldier, I simply cannot accept that my fellow soldiers who are gay aren’t receiving the same benefits, and even more frustratingly, I simply cannot accept that fact that I am not given the training to be a leader who can help both gay and straight soldiers.

    What I find strange is that while the liberal community criticized the president for essentiallly half-assing healthcare (think Stupak), it now becomes perfectly okay to half-ass this. There is an easy wrong and a hard right – we must choose the hard right for the military. It might take some time, but it’ll be what we need.

    In short, we’ve always said that, in the military, we accomplish missions to standards, not to time – LGBT servicemembers will benefit much, much more if DADT is ended with standards, rather than rushing through it, as we currently are.


  • marc

    Bookworm – thanks for furthering the discussion on other blogs. It’s much appreciated.

    As for your assertion of ending the rampant homophobia in the military – I would say that it’s not so much about just ending homophobia, but ending a hypermasculine culture that values and pushes for hetero male culture. This, of course, ties in with how people view LGBT servicemembers and everyone, overall. It is possible to be able to be the stereotypical perfect soldier – good leader, mentally and physically fit, competent in tactical and technical proficiencies, and still hold feminist views, or at the very least, anti-sexist views.

    I would say that, overall, what is considered the military homophobia is largely a reflection of society. We have some good people, and we have some bad people – just like any other organization. Thankfully, we can and should control the thoughts of servicemembers, and for the most part, we do.

    The challenge of ending homophobia, as a culture rather than policy, is the same as that of the civilian world. It won’t happen overnight, and I am not sure there is a specifi way we can do that, other than including equal opportunity lectures and celebrations, which we’ve already done with other minority groups. Hence the reason I want this done via Congress, rather than with a judge – so that we can put all these programs in place.

    Thanks again –