“[This] weekend on Memorial Day, America will come together to honor all who have served our nation in uniform… Today, by repealing the discriminatory Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, we also honor the service and sacrifice of all who dedicate their lives to protecting the American people. We honor the values of our nation and we close the door on a fundamental unfairness.”
“Under Don’t ask, Don’t Tell, more than 13,000 men and women in uniform have been discharged from the military. Thousands more have decided not to re-enlist. Fighter pilots, infantry officers, Arabic translators and other specialists have been discharged at a time when our nation is engaged in two wars.”
– Nancy Pelosi to the House of Representatives. May 27, 2010.
Last Thursday, the House of Representatives voted 234-194 to allow the repeal of the controversial Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
The vote mirrored an earlier closed-door agreement of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), which orders the discharge of any soldier who “demonstrate(s) a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts,” was first passed under the Clinton Administration in 1993.
The policy was enacted because, its authors argued, allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the armed forces “would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.”
Despite the repeal’s popularity amongst the public, however, Senate Republicans on the Armed Services Committee have threatened to filibuster any defense authorization bill with “Democrat-backed language repealing DADT.”
Louie Gohmert, a Republican Senator from Texas, addressed the house before the vote: “If someone has to be overt about their sexuality, whether it’s in a bunker where they’re confined under fire, then it’s a problem. And that’s what repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell does. It says, ‘I have to be overt, I don’t care. I want this to be a social experiment.”
The move by Republicans, however, is more a nod to their christian base than it is a defense of the military’s “good order and discipline.”
Similarly, the Democrats’ move to repeal DADT should be seen more as a nod to their base than as any real attack on homophobia in the military.
In the first place, it should be pointed out, the repeal of DADT won’t necessarily allow gay soldiers to be open about their sexuality – in fact, in many cases, it will probably make no difference at all.
Take for example the case of Petty Officer Third Class Joseph Rocha, who was harassed and brutalized for two years before he intentionally came out to his commanding officer.
During his time in the Navy, fellow soldiers had become suspicious of his sexual orientation after he refused to hire a prostitute.
In response, soldiers tied him to a chair and pushed him into a dog kennel full of shit, and repeatedly forced him to perform simulated sex acts on video tape.
Commanding officers in the unit repeatedly ordered him, occasionally on video tape, to behave more effeminately, to speak with a higher voice, and appear more “queer.”
He has described his experiences in the Navy as the “most disgusting, degrading thing[s] that I’ve ever been made to do,” and has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the abuses he continually suffered.
Despite the military’s full awareness of these events, however, the commanding officer of Rocha’s unit, Petty Officer Michael Toussaint, was promoted following Rochas discharge.
Toussaint, now Senior Chief Toussaint, had also been implicated in handcuffing a female sailor to a bed and forcing her to simulate lesbian sex with another woman, also while on video.
Incidences of sexual violence like this in the military are by no means isolated.
As columnist Dana Goldstein points out, “U.S. servicemen today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire. At some Veterans Affairs hospitals, over 40 percent of female patients report having been sexually assaulted during their service, and almost one-third are survivors of rape.”
Indeed, in 2006 alone, over 100 women were raped by military recruiters across the country.
“Many recruiters found guilty of sexually assaulting women,” Goldstein adds, “faced only administrative punishments.”
Proponents of the repeal of DADT argue that allowing soldiers to serve openly will afford them better protections against harassment – but this is true only to the extent that military leadership will act on their behalf, a more than optimistic prospect, given that over 50% of U.S. soldiers oppose the repeal.
In fact we know, in situations like Joseph Rocha’s, that some soldiers are as likely to be promoted as they are to be given “administrative punishments” for their violent and homophobic behavior.
If sexual violence in the military remains as vicious and widespread as it has in the past, the repeal of DADT alone won’t be anything more than a meaningless gesture to win votes from the GLBTQ community.