At Last! A Navy Vet Celebrates the End of DADT
Dan Choi’s Public Struggle
On March 19, 2009, former Army Lieutenant Dan Choi joined the fight in a big way: on live Television.
The West Point graduate and Iraq War veteran announced he was gay on "The Rachel Maddow Show." Three little words -- "I am gay" -- changed Choi’s life forever.
He was informed of his discharge from military service and began a blitz media and activist war against DADT and any elected official who supported the archaic law. He became, overnight, the poster boy for repeal. His battle has taken him across the globe, as he’s confronted politicians in public, chained himself (twice) to the fence in front of the White House and continues to speak out against DADT, its detrimental effects on service members and vets, and seeks his reenlistment into the United States Army.
While the aforementioned heroes aren’t the only players in a decades-long fight for equality, their ultimate sacrifice or legal and public battles have, without a doubt, moved millions of Americans to reconsider DADT. Before its repeal, in poll after poll, Americans were in favor of ridding the DoD of the hateful policy against LGB service in the U.S. military.
Credit to President Obama
No one can deny that former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (a holdover from the Bush Administration, it should be noted), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, and President Obama set the repeal process in motion.
After all, it was Obama that told Congress and the Pentagon to repeal the ban by year’s end, and, in the remaining days of 2010, they did just that. But one cannot discount that the real unsung heroes in all of this were the active duty and reserve heterosexual troops that filled out the Defense Department’s survey, while at war or serving aboard Navy ships.
They said overwhelmingly that they were comfortable with serving alongside LGB men and women and knew of some, already, in service. Those surveys were the final nail in the coffin that will hold DADT’s legacy of hate for eternity, because 2011 is not 1993. Standing together as brothers and sisters in arms, servicemembers from all four services -- both gay but mostly straight -- said, "Let them serve." And so they will.
What Repeal Does Not Change
By repealing DADT, the country and the military have taken a significant step toward equality for all who want to serve their country in uniform. But there are other discriminatory policies in the military that the repeal of DADT does not change. These include:
• Transgender servicepersons. DADT repeal does not change the medical regulatory ban in place for aspiring or current service members who identify as Transgender.
• HIV positive. The repeal of DADT does not change the regulatory scheme in place for aspiring or current service members who are HIV-positive
• The Uniform Code of Military Justice. UCMJ is the criminal law of the US military. The repeal of DADT does not change any part of that law. All servicemembers, regardless of sexual orientation, are responsible for understanding and complying with all provisions of the UCMJ. There is a risk that those who wish to target gay and lesbian servicemembers may make false allegations or misuse sections of the UCMJ to continue to discriminate against LGB service members.
• VA benefits. The repeal of DADT does not change whether or not someone is eligible for benefits from the Veterans Administration. The VA will continue to determine a servicemember’s eligibility for benefits based on factors such as time served, discharge characterization, and disability rating.
Stronger Military, Safer Nation
There is no evidence that exists showing that repealing DADT would harm the military. According to research at the University of California, Santa Barbara, "No reputable or peer-reviewed study has ever shown that allowing service by openly gay personnel will compromise military effectiveness."
American will join 24 developed nations that allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military. None of these has reported "any determent to cohesion, readiness, recruiting, morale, retention or any other measure of effectiveness or quality," according to the university’s Palm Center. "In the more than three decades since an overseas force first allowed gay men and lesbians to serve openly, no study has ever documented any detriment to cohesion, readiness, recruiting, morale, retention or any other measure of effectiveness or quality in foreign armed services."
With the repeal of DADT, service members will no longer be discharged solely based on their sexual orientation. In practice, this means that service members who are complying with all sexual-orientation-neutral policies and regulations cannot be kicked out for engaging in the three types of so-called "homosexual conduct" that existed under DADT. Service members will no longer be forced out of the armed forces for making "statements" of homosexuality. With the repeal of DADT, statements about a service member’s sexual orientation are no longer grounds for discharge, and service members are free to come out to whomever they would like, if they so choose.
With the repeal of DADT, lawful acts with a person of the same sex are no longer grounds for discharge. Service members are free to engage in intimate conduct with a person of the same sex to the extent permissible under sexual-orientation-neutral regulations. However, there are other provisions that limit or prohibit certain acts, and that can have serious penalties.
On September 20 and beyond, service members are free to marry, obtain a domestic partnership or civil union, or have a commitment ceremony with another person of the same sex without fear of separation. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a same-sex marriage will not be recognized as a valid marriage by the military and other parts of the federal government, even if it is validly performed in a state that allows same-sex marriage. Spouses of service members, therefore, will be limited in the benefits available to them.
At a time when we are fighting two wars, what matters most on the battlefield is a person’s ability to complete the mission. On September 20 our country’s laws and our military’s policies will reflect this basic, common sense notion. The repeal of DADT is a major step forward for Gay and Lesbian service members, their families, the military, and the country as a whole.