05.26.10

End This Bigoted Policy Now

A veteran discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” praises the new pledge to repeal the policy. Anthony Woods on why Congress and Obama must stick to their word.

After more than a year of drawing heat from the left on everything from closing Guantanamo to curbing abuses of executive power, President Obama may soon be able to draw praise for keeping his promise on gays in the military.

On Monday, a compromise was reached among Congress, the White House, and the Pentagon on legislation that would repeal "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." This breakthrough means we may be fewer than 24 hours away from voting on the effective end of the legal ban on gay service. This vote would pave the way for gays and lesbians to serve openly by the middle of next year.

I served in the military under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for nine years until I was discharged in 2008 when I decided defending my country shouldn’t also mean lying.

While the compromise allows for immediate legislative action, it also lets the military continue to prepare and plan for the day when gay and lesbian service members are no longer the objects of discrimination. It does so by not making effective the repeal, should Congress pass it, until the Pentagon has completed a study of the policy. To further ease concerns, the amendment to the Defense authorization bill stipulates that nothing would happen until the secretary of Defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the president have considered the Pentagon’s findings and sign off on the repeal.

Right now, when you ask Americans if gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military, nearly eight out of 10 support it. Presumably, it’s because most of us don’t see the value in spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to investigate and dismiss almost 14,000 patriotic men and women simply because of their sexual orientations. According to some estimates, this cost rises to a staggering $1.3 billion when you include the cost of training and recruiting them.

My Life as a Gay OfficerMeanwhile, zealots from the Family Research Council and so-called Center for Military Readiness are ginning up fictitious warnings of a radical homosexual agenda to prey on their fellow soldiers, infringe on religious beliefs, and ultimately destroy the military from within.

Spare me.

If Congress and the White House drag their feet on repealing the policy, we’ll be subjected to months, if not years, of this ugliness and a lot more divisive political debate (think back to health care and death panels). More importantly, however, if our nation’s leaders continue to wait on ending this bigoted policy, our military will continue to discharge skilled men and women every single day because of their sexual orientations.

I know the sting of this policy all too well.

I served in the military under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for nine years until I was discharged in 2008 when I decided defending my country shouldn’t also mean lying and compromising my integrity in order to hide my orientation.

Until I was fired under DADT, the most important things on my mind were the safety and well-being of my soldiers and accomplishing the mission—a sentiment shared by the estimated 66,000 gays and lesbians serving in our armed forces today.

Most of the soldiers I served with in Iraq now know about my sexual orientation. Their overwhelming response has been disappointment that I’m no longer allowed to serve our country in uniform.

If the president and Congress fail to act this week, we can look forward to desperate attempts to distract the public with inaccurate and exaggerated accounts of the implications of open service while our military kicks out qualified troops at a rate of almost two per day.

When eight out of 10 Americans say gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in our military, Congress ought to listen to them and include repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in this year’s defense authorization bill. Let’s hope Congress and the White House help us avoid yet another ugly political shouting match.

This time, the security of our country depends on it.

Anthony Woods, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, was discharged from the U.S. Army in 2008 for violating the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.