Thursday’s hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee on the military’s discriminatory and counterproductive policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) provided stark contrasts.
Retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John J. Sheehan, who supports keeping DADT in place, made the jaw-dropping claim early in the hearing that the 1995 massacre of over 7,000 Muslim men and boys by the Bosnian Serb army in Srebrenica resulted, in part, from the fact that the Dutch military allows gays and lesbians to serve openly. Not to outdo himself, Sheehan went on to discuss his fears about sexual assaults skyrocketing as a result of repeal, and stated that he shared the view that it was a hijacking of the civil rights movement to compare the current effort to repeal DADT with efforts following World War II to integrate the armed services. It is worth noting that the only African-American member of the U.S. Senate, Roland Burris, thought the comparison was appropriate.
In contrast to Sheehan, former Air Force Maj. Mike Almy and former U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. Jenny Kopfstein provided moving examples of the illogical and counterproductive results of DADT. Both had stellar military careers in which they enjoyed the support and respect of their fellow service members. Our military readiness has been harmed by the fact that they are no longer able to offer their contributions in the defense of our nation.
Kopfstein movingly discussed an example of what allowing open service would mean, not only for those who are gay and lesbian, but more broadly as well. Prior to being discharged under DADT, Kopfstein’s sexual orientation was common knowledge among those who served with her (including her superiors). Kopfstein stated:
One time I was walking down the passageway on the ship, and a Senior Petty Officer stopped me and asked, “Ma’am, may I speak to you for a minute?” My first thought was, “Uh-oh, what is this going to be about?” We stepped into an empty room, and he pulled out his wallet. He showed me a picture of a teenage boy: “This is my son, and he’s gay, and I’m really proud of him.” I was so shocked, I didn’t know what to say. Finally, I said, “Wow! Thanks, Senior Chief.” We could not have had that interaction if I was not out. Normal people interact, and talk about their families.
After hearing the testimony of Almy and Kopfstein, poll numbers like those released this week by the Vet Voice Foundation are hardly surprising. The report found that 73 percent of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan said they felt comfortable around gay and lesbian colleagues. When only younger veterans are counted, the number jumps to 80 percent.
These numbers also help to explain the growing support among Democrats and Republicans in Congress for fully repealing DADT. Republican Rep. Joseph Cao of Louisiana became the latest this week to join legislation — the Military Readiness Enhancement Act — that would repeal DADT. Rep. Cao stated:
… and I am happy [to] put my name on this legislation as well as to continue to work alongside Log Cabin Republicans as we speak to our Republican colleagues about the merits of repealing the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in our armed forces.
Rep. Cao’s support for repealing DADT helps to underscore the fact that this is really all about ending a discriminatory policy that weakens our national defense, something rational members of both political parties can surely agree to. They owe it to people like Maj. Almy and Lt. Kopfstein to continue pressing forward with ending this nonsensical, discriminatory and outdated policy.